Devotional: June 19, 2020
When it came close to the time for his Ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?”
Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village.
Luke 9: 51-56 The Message
In recent weeks, protests and looting and violent confrontations have occurred in many cities of our nations. Where is God in all of this? What would Jesus say about what is going on? Good questions to consider.
One of the principle tensions in the New Testament happens between Jews and Samaritans. There is a racial component to these tensions, but it also involved religion, and politics. Tragically, what happens in this scripture passage is similar to what is happening in our cities right now.
The origin of this recent unrest in our country was horrible and tragic. With the added issues around the shut-down, emotions were running hot. While the magnitude of the triggering event is quite different in our world, as compared to this scripture passage, my focus is not going to be on the triggering event, but what happens after the trigger is pulled.
If we take a step back from the recent violence and destruction and look at history, there are many similarities between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. We see that this is not the first time there has been a clash between two different segments or cultures of the population. Here, some of Jesus’ disciples are trying to make travel arrangements
for Jesus and the rest of the disciples. However, they are trying to make these reservations in a Samaritan city.
While at the Samaritan check-in desk, they mention that they are on their way to Jerusalem. The Samaritans take offense at this piece of information. Why? Jerusalem was the location of the temple, and thus the Holy Place for the Jews. It was not the Holy Place for the Samaritans. Some observers believe this difference in Holy Places was the key difference between Jews and Samaritans. This point is mentioned by the woman at the well when Jesus speaks to her. (John 4:20)
Apparently, the Samaritans are offended that these traveling strangers did not find their own, local “Holy Place” to be good enough. Instead, they needed to go to Jerusalem.
So what do the offended Samaritans do? They refuse to offer overnight accommodations to Jesus and His disciples! The Samaritans escalate the conflict.
So now Jesus and the disciples are without a place to stay in the Samaritan city. How do James and John respond?
They ask Jesus the following question, “Master, do you want us to call down fire from heaven, to burn this place to the ground?”
What a question! If the Samaritans had escalated things a little, the disciples wanted to escalate things a lot. James and John: Jesus’ own disciples, want to take things to a whole new level. A terrible level!
What the Samaritans do is practice bad manners, by refusing to extend hospitality to strangers. Of course, this hostility to Jews was ingrained in the Samaritan culture at the time. It is not gracious, or understanding. It does not build bridges between people.
Yet what two of Jesus’ disciples propose is criminal retribution. “Let’s burn this place to the ground!” James and John’s question may well have been born out of anger. After all, these two brothers were called “the sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17)
How does Jesus respond to James and John’s thunderous suggestion? Answering their terrible question, Jesus says, “Of course not.” In other words, he is saying, “What in the world are you silly disciples thinking? We seek to minister to people, not to destroy them. Remove that terrible thought of destroying this Samaritan city from your consciences. You have got to be kidding me with that suggestion!”
The Samaritans and Jews, because of their shared, conflicted history, were programmed to escalate every conflict. Thus, we move from discussing accommodations at the local inn, to talking about total destruction in mere moments. It is tragic!
Yet Jesus immediately de-escalates this potentially explosive situation.
There is a reason why they call Him the Prince of Peace. He brings peace to a situation where misunderstanding and conflict are escalating, and careening wildly out of control.
He de-escalates the situation. He plays the part of the peacemaker.
My hope is that each one of us, as much as possible, can bring peace to every conflicted situation we encounter.
Neither the Samaritans, nor the disciples were blameless in this encounter. Both groups made mistakes. Both groups escalate the conflict.
In the end, Jesus doesn’t assign blame. Perhaps he realizes there is plenty of blame to go around. All Jesus wants to do is to calm everyone
down, talk some sense into his disciples, and bring people some peace.
May we do the same in our world…
Lord, You see the cries of all Your people, and You ache for the hurt You see. May our eyes be opened to opportunities to share Your compassion and gentleness, and the kind of love Your Son showed us all. Help us, Lord, to be conduits of Your peace.
We pray this prayer in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.