This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship. Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason. When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach. So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.
The first six verses (vv. 51-56) relate an episode that is pretty self-contained, though it does set the stage for what comes next. Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem, His “departure” is imminent (the passage refers to what’s coming in euphemistic terms – by the time Luke wrote this down, it was very clear that Jesus’ “departure” was a light way of referencing the torture that He endured, the humiliation that was heaped upon Him, and the crucifixion that He suffered). There’s a Samaritan village that won’t receive Him as He travels.
Now, the reaction of James and John (the Sons of Thunder, as they’re called elsewhere) is almost beside-the-point for our purposes, though it does zero in on the symptoms of the problem that we’re addressing. The Samaritans are not open to receiving Jesus among them because someone has let it slip that He is heading for Jerusalem (that’s the “why” they won’t have Him), and they find this an insult and injury to their identity. A Galilean Jew heading for Jerusalem (a popular pilgrimage destination, as the major Jewish feasts are all celebrated there) was often unwelcome among Samaritans, as their presence was a reminder of the Jewish exclusion of their Samaritan cousins.
And so we might call it pride, or personal interest, or self-protection, or centuries of victimization (or at least a sense of identification with that history): whatever it is, these Samaritans are unwilling to receive Jesus because of it. Their own agenda or interest or limited vision or worldview renders them unable to become a part of what Jesus is doing. We might note how very gracious it is of Jesus to give them the opportunity to play a role in what He’s doing, and where He’s going. They can’t see that. James and John believe they should be destroyed for their unwillingness. Jesus sees things otherwise.
I recently saw an article by Raffi (the children’s singer) who was arguing that when children act out the proper response isn’t to correct the behaviour, but to help them work through the problem that has caused the poor behaviour. I think that’s Jesus’ approach, here. It leaves the question looming, however: what about us? At the opportunity to join Jesus in what He is doing (establishing His reign, His new Creation, transforming people from the inside out, bringing justice and equity to His people) — at the opportunity to join Him in what He is doing, are we able to see ourselves in the story, mission and vision of the future that He brings? or are there mindsets that hinder our vision, and thus our ability, to do so?