As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village.
Gospel of Luke
It is now late in the ministry of Jesus. He is setting out to Jerusalem and his death.
Perhaps this Samaritan village had received him previously. Perhaps there were people there who had accepted Jesus as Messiah. But whatever the case, this time they did not welcome him.
Many New Testament commentators, with no more evidence than we have available here, speculate the Samaritans resented that Jesus would still go to the Mt. Zion Temple for Passover when the Jerusalem priests and Pharisees had mostly rejected him. Why not remain in Samaria and worship with us on Mt. Gerizim?
There is a nuance to the original Greek that we may not hear. An especially literal translation suggests something going on that sounds awkward in English: “And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.”
It is as easy to speculate the Samaritans did not want to help Jesus head toward Jerusalem because they were concerned for his safety.
Whatever the Samaritans motivation, the reaction of James and John is as prideful and angry as usual. And once again, they are rebuked by Jesus. Jesus and his disciples move on to another village, almost certainly another Samaritan village.
The differences between Samaritan and Jew persist. We have seen Jesus does not allow these differences to obscure the faithfulness of Samaritans, but neither does he deny the difference. In rebuking James and John, we certainly hear Jesus calling for a toleration of difference and rejection of violence.
Some translations (above is the New International Version) include details on the rebuke of James and John. The King James Bible adds to the end of verse 55 and beginning of verse 56, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives. But to save them.”
The intolerance of his disciples – loyal and loving to Jesus though they may be – exposes the corrupt spirit that still abides in them. Jesus does not destroy. Jesus creates, most dramatically through the sacrament of self-sacrifice.
In any case, violence and anger aimed at the Samaritans was quickly rebuked by Jesus.
This is the fifth post in a weekend series that will conclude on December 24. The purpose is to examine possible principles for inter-religious relations emerging from six scriptural texts.
The first post on December 3 was Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.
The second post on December 4 was Avoid Samaritan Towns.
The third post on December 5 was The Woman at Jacob’s Well.
The fourth post on December 11 was Jesus accused of being a Samaritan.
The series will resume on December 18.