We Didn’t Start the Fire

We Didn't Start the FireDoes your spouse believe different from you?  Have you got a brother or sister who just can’t open their hearts and accept Jesus?  What about your parents or kids?  Jesus’ words are difficult, but very clear: If you don’t let go of those who impede your relationship with Jesus, then you are not worthy of the love of God and you will be cut off and lose any hope of salvation.  It’s not an easy message at all, but we must accept it.  If you have a spouse who doesn’t share your firm beliefs about Jesus, you need to save yourself and divorce him or her.  If your own children can’t understand how important it is to believe in Christ, then you need to disown them.  Hopefully they will figure it out soon enough and then you can let them back into your home.  Friends?  Who needs them if they don’t get it?  Family?  To heck with them if they are only going to drag us into hell.

Jesus is full of difficult discourses and this in Matthew 10 is one of the most unsettling.  Far too many people take this passage literally without any regard for the context.  It grinds me when people prooftext and don’t even bother to search for the contextual meaning of Jesus’ words.  If he’s important enough to call your “savior” then one would think that it’s important to understand him.  How many people have we seen that would sell their own families down the river because they disagree with their interpretations of scripture?  How many progressive people have been kicked out of conservative homes?  How many LGBTQ children have been sent off into oblivion because their parents’ God will have none of that?  It makes me so mad to think about it.  I hope you guys aren’t too sensitive and if you are you might want to cover your ears because I’m about to drop the f-bomb.  These people are completely and utterly so fu – – – – ndamentalist that it drives me nuts!  

Fundamentalism sprang up as an answer to the enlightenment.  When people were dismissing faith for empirical data and evidence wrapped up in logical thinking, some dug in their heels and held to a literal, factual interpretation of scripture.  In doing so they lost the desire and effort to bother studying Jesus or any other part of scripture for its intended meaning.  The Bible is the inerrant, spirit-breathed word of God and every word in it is 100% factually literal and anyone who believes otherwise should be pitied for the kind of hell that awaits them.  After all, the Bible was written in English, wasn’t it?  So, when we come to a passage like this one in Matthew 10, we need to see that there are the right people (us, of course) and the wrong people (anyone who doesn’t see things as we do) and the wrong people need to be cut off because they just can’t listen to reason and we won’t let them bring us down.

Let’s pretend for a minute that Jesus (or Matthew who puts the words in his mouth) was speaking to a particular audience at a particular time for a particular reason.  So, let’s see, Jesus is speaking to a group of Jews from the synagogue (this is Matthew’s context as well) and tells them that there will be discord between them and their loved ones.  Why would this be?  Perhaps it could be that many Jews (as we have seen in other passages) were kowtowing to the Roman authorities and giving up on their faith heritage.  They still went through the motions, but they didn’t dare speak up against those powers that oppressed them.  It was easier to just sit back and keep their mouths shut when they experienced and witnessed injustice because it was a much safer way to be.  So, Jesus is warning those who would listen that, if they chose to respond to the spirit of God that was tugging at their hearts telling them that something was terribly wrong and it needed to be addressed, they should expect some serious backlash from those who did not want any negative attention brought to their families.  As long as nobody sticks out or speaks up, everybody will be safe.  

This mindset was the common wisdom of the day.  Jesus was explaining that God wasn’t about common wisdom, but would keep pushing us and pushing us until we were ready to explode if we didn’t do something about what we knew was wrong.  This was the special divine wisdom that rests within all of us and that Jesus so fully embodied.  Take a look at Proverbs 8 (and also the Message version) and tell me if that sounds familiar?  Tell me if that couldn’t be something that Jesus was paraphrasing and espousing.  

Jesus wasn’t the only one or even the first one to notice that we all have an inherent fire burning within us to speak out against injustice and do that which is wise, just, and godly.  Look at Jeremiah 20:7-13.  He was ridiculed, derided, disowned by his friends, and left in a pit for dead.  He cries out to God and says. “Why do I even bother!?  Why do you have to do this to me?  I would have been better off not having been born!  Everyone mocks me and I am a laughing stock!  Any time that I try to say or do what’s right or even recognize that there is anything wrong, I get attacked.  I don’t want to do this anymore, but I can’t not do it!  There is a fire that burns with in me that knows what’s right and intuits what needs to be done and if I ignore it, it will burn me up and I will be consumed!”

We didn’t start the fire.  It was always burning since the world’s been turning.  Jeremiah knew it, Jesus knew it, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Medger Evers, Billy Joel, and the list goes on.  We know it.  We can feel it and sometimes even become pretty good at ignoring it because we also know what Jesus and the rest of them knew – when we try to speak out, when we denounce injustice and cry out like Lady Wisdom for those who have no voice, we WILL be castigated.  This is what happens when we choose to follow divine wisdom instead of the common wisdom that just sits back and keeps its mouth shut.  No, we didn’t start the fire, but we don’t have to let it consume us.

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One Response to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    I appreciate these comments, and context, very much.

    As one reading the Bible (Message version) for the first time straight through, I was recently troubled by this passage from Matthew; it conflicted with my own intuitions of familial ties, and how I could not conceive of leaving for my wife or children.

    I cannot fathom whether what was attributed to Jesus in the Gospels was actually said / taught by the “historical” Jesus — but assuming this particular calling was advocated — this contextual reminder does make sense, and assuage the reflexive objection to subscribing to such a purported teaching.

    Re the fires that lit the flame for justice in the extraordinary figures mentioned, I recall vaguely the oft quoted inclusive invitation attributed to Gandhi, in which he identified himself aligned with all religions, at once.

    The timeless essence being that we are all … Jew and Gentile. Muslim and Christian. Protestant and Catholic. Hutu and Tutsi. Shiite and Sunni. We are human. We are one.

    Yet we create divisions without existential distinction; at our core, the humans species has been blessed with the wonderful capacity for love and sacrifice, and cursed with the awful opportunity for hate and violence.

    The fires that burn for justice are usually accompanied by the rains that shower down peace.

    May the flame be lit within us and the water flow among us… .

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