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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories: Called to Be a Prophetic People – Setting the World Ablaze

Fires in Newfoundland, British Columbia, and California, fires in France, Portugal and Spain, this has a been a summer of wild fires around the globe. Fires like these destroy and change the landscape. They can destroy and dislocate, but they also bring about new life and a new reality.

Forest fires, for all their destruction, are often a step in the process of regeneration of the forests, with new growth gradually emerging in the wake of the fire. From the ashes of the old, rise the life and green of the new. In a similar way, fire can create something quite new with metals. It is at the center of many refining processes, removing impurities in steel, copper, aluminum, gold. Often fire can bring together different metals, melting them into one. Something new arises from the melting.

Luke’s Gospel presents Jesus speaking about the fire that burns in his heart and at the core of his message and mission. His call is to set that fire ablaze in our world, in all humanity, among all the peoples of the earth. It is the fire which refines and transforms the world into the Kingdom that is God’s dream for us all. In this, Jesus takes on the role of the prophet.

We have some misconceptions regarding prophets. Perhaps the most significant is that prophets are predictors of the future, that they tell us what is going to happen. In fact, this is not what a prophet does. A prophet is very much in the present and helps us to understand what is going on. What might be regarded as future-focused is that such a person will help us to move into the future with a better sense of how to deal with it and of what we are to become.

In our Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is the Incarnation. Our God so loves us that God takes on our humanity in the person of Jesus. What a prophetic image of God’s love this reveals. In Luke’s Gospel we hear of this prophetic role of Jesus coming to the world: I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:49-50)

Jesus is filled with the Spirit of God, blazing in his heart. He goes out into the world on the mission of spreading the reign of God. As Luke presents it, he must set the world on fire. This is the prophetic role, spreading God’s dream and message, bringing the transforming fire of God’s love to all.

The fire of the Spirit of God is to refine and transform our world. It will blaze in a way that consumes and destroys the world of division and brokenness, the world of violence and injustice. The fire of the Spirit is the fire of God’s love for us all. It is to refine and mold the world into something new. Such refining means setting aside the past, changing for the future and becoming the world of God’s dream, marked by peace and justice, healing and reconciliation for all.

Every Christian, at baptism is imbued with the fire of the spirit. This gift is confirmed and further acknowledged in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is celebrated in the setting of community, the gathered disciples of Jesus, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

So it is that the words of Jesus are our words, for we are called in baptism to the role of prophets, to be the voice and action of God in our world. Filled with the spirit of God we are, like Jesus to set the world on fire – the fire of God’s love in our words and in every action. Such a fire from the disciples of Jesus has the capacity to change our world, one human step at a time. We can be a prophetic people, a community of prophets for God.

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