Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent
Into the Fire

Readings: Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Matthew 20:17-28

There was a movie about firefighters on TV last night. It was a rather unabashed tribute to their bravery. But it did have its moments. In one memorable scene, two firefighters were rushing up the stairs in a two-storey house to put out a fire on the top floor. And a whole horde of panic-stricken rats -- the human occupants had probably already been evacuated -- came streaming down the stairs, desperately trying to escape the danger. It was every rat for itself. The central question posed by the story was this: What is it that makes a firefighter run into a burning building when everyone else – even the rats – are running out?

Our readings today somehow bring to mind that scene from the movie. In both readings, there is, figuratively speaking, a building on fire. The first reading is probably set in a time of exile, when people are not only in physical and political danger, but also in danger of losing hope. In the gospel, of course, the fire is on a much larger, cosmic scale. The whole of creation is under threat, caught in the snare of sin. And, in the face of these dangers, into these burning buildings, God sends his appointed firefighters. Both Jeremiah and Jesus are sent on rescue missions of their own. And, ironically, both have to face mortal danger from the very people whom they are trying to save. Yet Jeremiah continues to struggle to remain steadfast, even as Jesus continues to journey to Jerusalem. In contrast, like the rats in the movie, the apostles are jockeying for power, looking out for number one, even as the building burns. What is it that enables these two divinely appointed firefighters to rush into danger while others are rushing out?

The psalmist gives us an indication today: but as for me, I trust in you, Lord, I say: ‘You are my God. My life is in your hands, deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.’ Even in the face of certain death, Jeremiah and Jesus continue to put their trust in God. Both of them are able to rush into the burning building because they have entrusted their lives into God’s hands. Even when everything seems to indicate otherwise, they cling onto the hope that their God will somehow save them, will somehow vindicate them. Indeed, Jesus clings onto this hope even at the point when he is crying out on the cross: My God, my God why have you forsaken me?

Isn’t this the kind of scene that our Lenten discipline is designed to help us to discern in the concrete situations of our own lives? Whatever others may tell us, the building is on fire. There are people around us who are in danger, people in need of our help – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Offering help will often mean for us a death-defying dash into the heart of the fire, even when everyone else may be rushing out, even when everyone else may seem to be too engrossed in the rat race to care. This is no easy task. We know what we need – the grace to commit our lives to God, to put our trust in God alone.

The building is indeed on fire. The question is: in which direction are we running?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, such a poignant, stirring (almost hilarious - every rat for itself) analogy that brings the point across.

    To me, that point is this: "how is this Lent going to make me a braver, more determined fire-fighter, running in the right direction, when everything and everyone else is headed in the opposite direction?"

    To be honest, I don't know how to go about it except to trust in God - not from a "Oh there's nothing much I can do to rise above my weaknesses, LORD" but from a conscious, active desire to improve. And hoping and praying that God hears this tiny plaintiff cry {a faint flicker of intention in this world weary soul} to extend His mighty Hand to help.

    Modern living does anything but lead us closer to God. I'm not saying this in a facetious, self-righteous way but from my own limited personal experience. The peril is that the dangers we face every day are so alluring, they may even appear to be wholesome. Some moral issues are actually sweetened and packaged so we are deceived even without our knowing.

    "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner".