March 2016

"I came to bring fire to the earth"
[Luke 12.49 NRSV]

Jesus used these words to refer to the salvation he would bring to the world by his passion. "I came to bring fire to the e arth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" We can see something of the cost of our salvation in this Saying. It is a sort of preview of the agony in t he garden of Gethsemane. In the Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from heaven to benefit mankind, and received a horrible punishment for doing so because Z eus did not want human beings to have this gift. The contrast with Jesus is striking, because he came to earth to fulfil God the Father's will for our sal vation.

Fire is a symbol of God's power to purify, lead and comfort. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12.29), burning up what is evil in us because he loves us. "For he is like a refiner's fire ... he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the desc endants of Levi ... " (Malachi 3. 2-3). God made himself known to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3) and he led the Israelites through the desert b y a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13.21). The two disciples on the way to Emmaus were taught by the risen Jesus without know ing him, but they said afterwards, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road" (Luke 24.32).

Fire is closely connected with the Holy Spirit who came on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, changing them from frighte ned men and women who hid behind locked doors to fearless heralds of the risen Jesus. The baptism Jesus gives is a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (L uke 3.16). Through contemplative prayer we allow the Holy Spirit to burn away the evil in us, lead us in the way of God's commands and energise us to carr y out his purposes. Through contemplative intercession we share the fire of the Holy Spirit with others.
(This month's commentary is from the bo ok "Within Thy Silence" by Martin Tunnicliffe (O-Books 2010). Copies should be available, or may be ordered, from any bookshop.)