Here’s today’s brief Gospel reading in full:
That is a fairly unfamiliar passage, little quoted and rarely commented on. But it provides a powerful example of Jesus’ nonviolent approach to hostility, and well worth our pondering these days.
Luke doesn’t bother to explain the Samaritans’ hostility fully. He says they wouldn’t welcome Jesus (and company) “because his destination was Jerusalem.” That may seem an odd reason to be inhospitable. But there is a fuller context that Luke doesn’t spell out, because he expects his readers to be able to fill in the gap. The gap is this. Samaritans believed that the proper place for Israelites to worship God was on Mount Gerizim and that the Jews, down south, were worshiping God in the wrong place, Jerusalem. (John 4, the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, goes into this.) So a Jew journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem was a heretic acting out his stupid heresy, and therefore deserved no hospitality from right-thinking Samaritans.
When James and John see this, these “sons of thunder” want to invoke some kind of pre-emptive strike: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” God knows what these men were thinking, but in these days when we espouse a national security policy of being ready to bomb anyone who shows hostility toward us, these words have a startlingly contemporary ring.
Jesus’ response is instructive. Luke simply says that he rebuked them, and they moved on. Luke doesn’t give us the content of the rebuke, but we know what he is likely to have said from Luke 6:27-35, his teaching about loving enemies and doing good to those who hate you. Jesus knew where those Samaritans were coming from. They were serving the God of Israel in the way they had been taught, and returning inhospitality with hostility was not going to improve the situation. He was able to love them and get on with following out his own convictions in a nonviolent way.
Surely there is a lesson here for us, who have grown accustomed to using firepower against those who have found reason to be hostile to us. It is time to pray through Luke 6 and Matthew 5 once again. The nonviolence of Jesus is not peripheral.
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