In his spirited defense during the early brackets in Lent Madness, the Rev. David Sibley wrote this about Ignatius of Antioch, an early Bishop of Rome:
“Ignatius’ letter to the Romans expressed his firm desire to be led to his martyrdom, begging the church in Rome to let him be ‘food for the wild beasts… God’s wheat… ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may prove to be pure bread’ (Rom 4:1). Around AD 115, Ignatius was granted his wish, as he was martyred in the coliseum, given over to the teeth of lions.”
In my insomnia this morning, I was thinking of the election of Pope Francis and of the extraordinary challenge he faces as the spiritual leader of more than half the world’s Christians. As quickly as a puff of white smoke, he has become not only a source of guidance and a focus of reverence, but also a lightning rod for controversy, anger, and ridicule.
Exercising spiritual leadership at any level — you don’t have to be Pope! — can feel like being “ground by the teeth of wild beasts.” It is a terrible responsibility to educate the faithful, minister to the sick, reconcile the estranged, lead the congregation in worship, and feed the hungry, and if you’re honest about your own failings you’ll know how unprepared you are.
How appropriate is Psalm 69, appointed for Morning Prayer today!
O God, you know my foolishness,
and my faults are not hidden from you.
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.
Here’s what puts Ignatius’ martyrdom, Francis’ new role as Bishop of Rome, and our own ministries with those among whom we live, and work, and worship into perspective: We are not the bread of life. Jesus is.
We may be “God’s wheat,” but the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51) is Jesus himself. What we can do — all we can do — is give “our selves, our souls and bodies” fully to the task at hand. We unite our offering to his in order to become through him the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.
God grant that we may all offer solid food, nourishing bread, faithful witness to those whom God calls us to serve.