Divisions and Fire (and Thinking of Egypt)

This week's Gospel lesson is one of the most difficult in the lectionary. We like to think of Jesus as the prince of peace, but today he tells us that he came to bring fire and division. I believe the division he brings is his calling for us to be on God's side, not on the side of the world or even of family. We must choose to follow God (remember Moses exhorting the people in the wilderness that God has set before them life and prosperity or death and adversity and that they should choose life) even if others, including our families, do not so choose.

In scripture, fire, of course, is emblematic of both judgment and purification.

But sometimes fire is just about destruction, when it originates from evil rather than the Divine.

Today, I'm thinking of the division and fires that rage in Egypt. My news feeds have been peppered with disturbing images from Cairo as the country seems to be descending into total chaos - rows of wrapped bodies, the linens bloody, not cleaned up the way they would be in our country, lying in makeshift morgues (i.e., lying in the street); rows of unwrapped bodies surrounded by people crying uncontrollably; the burned out Jesuit Cultural Center in Minya; a woman being shot; angry young men covered in blood; and fire.

Lots of fire. Churches are being burned and Christians are taking note of that.

All of makes my heart so heavy. We should all be outraged at all of the violence, not just the violence directed at the Christian community. These are not fires of divine purification or judgment but fires of destruction, brought about by humans who are operating out of a place of hatred and fear. These are not the divisions that Jesus came to bring but the divisions that come from the worship of power and a thirst for revenge that is fed by a steady diet of bitterness and brutality.

And what signs of the times are these? How do we interpret this present time? What is it that is right in front of us that we are supposed to see?

I only know that this is not what Jesus came for. This is not the fire of eternal life. This is not the love of God made manifest on Earth. And yet God is there, because as Jeremiah says, God is everywhere, filling heaven and earth, so what do we see God doing and how must we be changed because of that?

It is hard to look at these images and hear these stories. It is hard not to shrug and say that this is the way of the world and there is nothing we can do about it. It is hard to see what God is doing amid the horror that reigns in Egypt (and Syria and Somalia and many other places in the world) now, especially for those of us who are safe in our own homes far away.

But I believe we cannot look away, for to look away from suffering is to look away from God, as God is always present with the suffering. And so I reckon that God is doing what God always does, binding up the wounded, and cradling the dead, and looking to us to cry out to the world once again that this is not the way.

God needs our voices to proclaim that the powerless are again being pushed aside and made afraid and carelessly killed as "collateral damage" in the pursuit of that which is neither holy nor eternal.  God looks to us to cry out that violence is not the answer, that the worship of power leads to death and destruction. And God will hear our prayers for peace, our prayers for the hearts of the violent to be turned away from bitterness, our prayers for mercy, our prayers for the courage to not look away, our prayers for healing and reconciliation.

May the world hear our voices and the Lord hear our prayers.


Ray Barnes said…
A thousand Amens Penny.
There is no 'right' in this terrible situation.
Both sides are wrong, though to different degrees and in different way, one active, the other reactive.
It seems to me the only hope is for the collective powers of other nations to act as intermediaries for peace.
May God speed their activities.
Thanks, Ray - may God speed their activities indeed!