As the time drew near for Him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for His arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because He was on His way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up [as Elijah did]?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. [And He said, “You don’t realize what your hearts are like.][For the Son of Man has not come to destroy people’s lives, but to save them.”] So they went on to another village. Luke 9:51-56
As I have told you before, this is a passage full of links and meaning. Let’s move through it piece by piece, now that I have explained some of the background. Notice the first element – “as the time drew near for Him to ascend to heaven”. There is still over half of Luke’s gospel to go before the ascension happens. Why say this? Because it connects this element with the discussion on the Mount of Transfiguration about His “departure“. Remember since then Luke has been listing for us the disciples shortcomings. Remember before the Transfiguration, Luke made the most of the questions of who Jesus is. Jesus was focused on doing what He came to earth for; to give His life in our place. He knew what His task was to do and he was determined to do it. He set His face toward Jerusalem and nothing was going to sway Him from His death, resurrection and departure. His ascension. How did Moses and Elijah know about this pending ascension? I don’t think they did. I think Jesus told them what was to happen. Why? Because Elijah knew about ascensions and because Moses knew all about the glory of God.
Why did Jesus send messengers ahead to the Samaritan village? I wonder which village he sent the messengers to. The area of Samaria we are mostly likely talking about is Sychar (Shechem) close to Mt Gerazim. Sound familiar. I don’t know for sure but I suspect Jesus was sending word to the people of Sychar whom He met through the woman at the well in John 4. I may be wrong on that. If I am, I am sure it is a village close to Sychar. You can bet the word would have gone out after the last encounter in this area. There is no way the word would not have spread. Note the degree to which the word spread in Galilee and its region. It would also happen in Samaria. But there is a problem in Samaria; there is a prejudice to overcome. A prejudice on behalf of the Samaritans. There is no way the Samaritans would have taken kindly to Jews passing through on their way to Jerusalem.
As you know from my previous comments there was a major dispute between Jews and Samaritans over where to worship and how to worship. In fact the Jews normally by-passed Samaria altogether. When the Jews went south to Jerusalem from Galilee they normally came to the northern border of Samaria a little north of Ginae and turned to the east toward the Jordan River. They crossed the river close to Salim and went down through Trans-Jordan until they were opposite Jericho where they crossed back again into Israel and made their way to Jerusalem. There are some who think the village Luke is referring to here is Ginae. Sychar is only 20 km to the south of Ginae. Both of these villages would know all about Jesus’ first visit to this area. Yet they refuse Him because He is on His way to Jerusalem. They hated the temple in Jerusalem which rivaled their own worship centre on Gerazim. They attacked Jews moving south to worship at Jerusalem. Their prejudices were showing on both sides of the divide.
The disciples were no different. Everything about being in Samaria brings the animosities to mind. As we have discussed before the ancient story comes flooding back to them. They have just been with Elijah, the major protagonist in the ancient conflict with the Samaritan worship practices. So their reaction is a typical Jewish one. Call down fire from heaven (taking the words straight from the Elijah story) on them. Jesus rebukes them and says, “Don’t you know what your hearts are like?” Effectively Jesus is saying: “But do you know what your hearts are like? . . . Yes the Samaritans are locked into unforgiveness. They hold grudges from the past and refusing to forgive and be reconciled to their brothers. You too are locked into unforgiveness. In fact you are worse. You have been with Me and you hear what I am teaching and yet you still want to call down fire from heaven like Elijah. . . The Son of Man has not come to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
It reminds me of Obadiah 1:11-12. You were like one of them . . . mistreating your brothers.” The Edomites were related through Esau to the Israelites. They were “family” in the wider sense of the word. But they incurred God’s wrath because they were so nasty to the Jews. Do you get the message James and John? You Jews are the same. You are related to the Samaritans but refuse to relate to them. You have this on going feud with them. Be reconciled. Examine your own hearts and move on. God is particular disturbed when His chosen people “become like one of them”; those who act and react like the unsaved or like those who don’t know His forgiveness. You are called to be different and to reflect the One who saved you. You were called to higher things – act like it.
It is just as well the additional verses were added some time later so we have a stronger sense as to what was being said here. Otherwise it would remain an allusion that most of us would miss.
Note the way the story is left hanging. “So they went to another village. . .”. That leaves so many questions in my mind. Does it do the same to you?
- Which village?
- Does this mean they tried some more Samaritan villages?
- What was the reaction there?
- How did the disciples get on being in Samaria for so long?
- Did they get the message and learn a major lesson?
Notice now Luke moves on to a pericope on the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Highly significant. Learn to take notice of how Luke arranges the material. He is the one gospel writer who has told us he is ordering this with a purpose for the benefit of the Lover of God. YOU. Do you get the point?
Without forgiveness, our souls are tied to what happened to us in the past. Whatever you do, choose to forgive.T D Jakes
Hurt people hurt people. Pray, love & forgive them.Rick Warren
God created you, and you need to learn to love what God created. Separate your “who” from your “do.”Joyce Meyer
Forgiving, when you’ve been deeply hurt, is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but you must forgive, and keep on forgiving until resentment no longer controls you.Bob Gass
Is your default mode WITH PEOPLE law & judgment or grace & mercy? “Forgive others as the Lord forgave you.”Bob Gass
When you blame others you add to the distance between them and you, and lose the only option that works – forgiveness.Bob Gass
Be not angry that you can’t make others as you wish them to be, since you can’t make yourself as you wish to be.Thomas á Kempis