Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20 - Ignatius of Antioch, Martyr, God Bearer, Apostolic Father

As he walked across the wilderness flanked by guards and wild beasts, Ignatius' mind drifted back to the day Jesus had come to his little town. He had been teaching for a while and offering that particular blend of love and expectation that he was so well known for when a ruckus had been stirred up. Ignatius peeked from behind his mother's skirts to see that the disciples had been trying to keep some of the local mothers away from Jesus when they tried to bring their children closer to him. Ignatius immediately knew what had been on their minds--having their children blessed by this wandering holy man--because his own mother had mumbled something about it earlier that day. So, he knew this Jesus was an important man and he had been trying very hard to listen especially close to what he had to say. It made sense, as far as he could tell, and so he assumed that he was missing the point since he was only a child and wasn't used to understanding wandering holy men. He had much to say about the power of love to change things and the love of God for all people. To young Ignatius this made sense and he hadn't questioned it but he was surprised to see quizzical looks on the faces of the adults. Then, it happened. Jesus beckoned him forward from behind his mother's skirts. "Don't keep the children out," Jesus started, "for they understand the Kingdom of God in ways that you struggle to grasp." Jesus took Ignatius into his arms and blessed him--much to Ignatius' mother's approval--before saying: "If you want to be a part of the Kingdom, you have to lay down much and be just like a little child."
From that day on, Ignatius had been keen to follow after Jesus. Jesus had confirmed Ignatius' feeling that the Kingdom he spoke of was honestly that simple (not easy but simple) so as to allow a little on to understand it. Ignatius had followed after the words of Jesus as best he could but Jesus had eventually been killed. On that day, Ignatius had wept for the death of his Lord but, also, for the slaughter of his innocent hope in a Kingdom where love was enough. When Jesus was raised from the dead, Ignatius was finally and irrevocably stamped with the high-minded hope that dared to trust God to bring life through death and redemption out of sin and brokenness. He had become a student of the Apostle John and had, eventually, matured into a leader in the early Christian Church when it was no more than a movement much maligned by the powers that be. Eventually, Peter had appointed Ignatius as Bishop of Antioch and entrusted many souls to his shepherding before finding his own death at the end of a life of truth-telling and at the hands of the Empire. Eventually, these same forces conspired to rob Ignatius of his life. He was arrested and marched to Rome for his execution: being torn apart by wild beasts in the Colosseum.

As he traveled, he had the opportunity to write letters to various congregations along his route.He had heard rumors that they were hoping to release him from the soldiers who guarded him and so he sent them letters pleading with them to allow the will of the Empire to be done since it coincided with God's will. The Empire hoped to snuff out the fledgling faith by killing another of its leaders. Of course, this failed and only further spread the Gospel of love and forgiveness but they were convinced that a little more blood might make the difference. Ignatius assured the congregations that martyrdom was an honor that he looked forward to. As he approached Rome, he sent one final letter to the Church in Rome and insisted that they do nothing except tell the story of his martyrdom. He included a powerful image:"I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ." The soldiers eventually threw him to the floor of the Colosseum and the beasts killed him for his faith.

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