Apr 2 2013 - Luke 9:51-10:12 – A paradoxical contrast
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will face betrayal and death. He has “set his face towards Jerusalem”; he is determined that nothing will turn him aside from the task that the Father has sent him to accomplish. He is determined to go to the cross for us.
As he and his followers passed through Samaria, messengers were sent on ahead to prepare a place for them to stay the night. One Samaritan village refused hospitality to the party because Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem. James and John asked if the Lord would like them to call down fire from heaven on the village. Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55) and led them on to another village.
The arrogance and presumption of James and John is breath-taking. Firstly they display a vengeful spirit that seems so contrary to that of their Master – a spirit that prompts Jesus' rebuke and earns them the nickname Boanerges (thunder boys). Secondly, they assumed that they had the ability to call down fire from heaven. Who did they imagine had given them that skill? I am reminded of the conversation between Glendower and Hotspur in Shakespeare's Henry The Fourth:
Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
This incident is followed by Jesus' words of instruction to the 72 whom he is sending out to proclaim the kingdom of God in the surrounding area. He tells them that if any town refuses to welcome them, they are to, "go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.'" (10:11). Then Jesus adds, "I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town" (10:12). Fire fell from heaven on Sodom for its gross failure of hospitality towards the messengers of God. The fate of the inhabitants of the town that rejects the messengers of Jesus will be no better.
You can, of course, decide to reject these final words of Jesus to the departing 72, deciding that they are out of character and an addition by a scribe of the same spirit as James and John. But then, surely, you also become arrogant and presumptuous in deciding what parts of the Gospel accounts depict a Jesus that conforms to your own expectations. Humble hermeneutics requires that we seek to understand what we are given; it will not allow us to rewrite the text.
Jesus' refusal to permit James and John to call down fire from heaven is not because his character is one of perfect love that precludes all judgment. He rebukes them because they have failed to understand what the time is; now is the day of salvation and the door to life must continue to remain open. Nevertheless, the Day of Judgment will come. We need to understand both of these things; we need our lives and testimony to be shaped by both of these realities if we are to have the mind of Christ.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you set your face to go to Jerusalem and to endure a cruel death upon the cross for us. Thank you that you were ready to suffer rejection, not just by Samaritan villagers, but also by Jewish leaders and Roman authorities – by us. You humbled yourself that we might inherit glory. Keep me, Lord Jesus, from an arrogant and presumptuous spirit. May I seek always to be a blessing to those around me. Keep me from cursing those whose conduct I find disappointing, hurtful or unkind; rather, help me to pray for them that they too may find forgiveness and healing through your sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.