Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Disemboweled by a Lion

After the teacher posted the cast list in our classroom, several people asked me, "Are you glad to be the Narrator?" "Sure," I replied (lying). "That's the best part in the whole play." I was asked by friends, other teachers, my parents--everyone wanted to know about my part. "Yes," I assured them (lying again), "I don't even have to memorize my lines." The truth was that I wanted to be Ebeneezer Scrooge in our class's production of A Christmas Carol. Why would anyone want to be the Narrator? As I remember, Michael Fillingim got the part I wanted, but I wouldn't dare let anyone know it.

How often does that happen in our lives? Someone asks us how we like our new job, and we reply, "I love it. I was ready for a change (fired)." Someone asks if we're recovering from the death of our father, and we tell her, "Yes, actually I am really thankful that he is at peace (haven't slept in weeks)." Someone asks if we like our new house, and we say, "We feel so at home now that we've downsized to a house that's right for us (couldn't afford it)." We try to convince others that the crisis we're facing isn't really a crisis. But, when we do, I think we're really trying to convince ourselves.

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was arrested and tried by the Romans and sentenced to die in the arena of the capital city. He was shipped from Turkey to Rome, stopping along the way as an example to other Christians of what might happen to them if they did not abandon their newfangled faith. But, instead of having the desired effect, parading Ignatius around only encouraged the faithful. That's because Ignatius embraced his fate with amazing confidence. To his admirers, he wrote, "I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. No early pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth." You can read more here.

Unlike the disappointed Narrator, Ignatius meant it. And that's bizarre. This man was being sent to have his guts ripped out by lions. As he so gruesomely put it, he was going to be ground up like flour between the teeth of lions. And yet he still embraced that sentence with joy in his heart. That's ridiculous. That's foolish. What kind of person says that and means it?

Well, a Christian does. He (and so many other martyrs like him) understood what real faith was all about. In the lessons for Ignatius' day, Jesus says, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain," and Paul writes, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" Those have always seemed like nice words of encouragement to me, but Ignatius heard them and believed them literally. Would death by lion stand between him and God? No, it would bring him closer to God. Would the painful tragedy that awaited him diminish his faith? No, it would become a source of strength. How could God lead him to this hour? Only by his gracious, loving will.

We are Christians. We believe in life after death. We believe in hope beyond tragedy. We seek not to escape the pain of this world but to walk through it. Sometimes people walk a life of faith in the midst of pain that I can't even imagine. Torn apart by lions? No problem.

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