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Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

April 7, 2017

You can't pin it on God

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. —Luke 9: 51-57

Before reading this essay, spend time with this Scripture. Read it slowly a few times, and let it sink in. It is a good passage with which to use the Lectio Divina method of praying with Scripture.

* * * * *

One of the most consistent features of Jesus’ ministry is his insistence on breaking down the barriers of his day—both those of the Middle Eastern culture of the time, as well as those associated with the most pious practices of his own Jewish religion.
He treated women well, for example. He featured the despised half-breed Samaritans as heroes in his parables, he travelled through their territory and he interacted with them. He performed miracles for the Roman occupiers of Palestine, Gentiles at that. He touches the unclean, shows compassion for the diseased, possessed and broken. He praises children. He mourns with those who are grieving, and gives them hope for what comes after death. And then, of course, he defeats death.

The gospels always portray the disciples as a few steps behind Jesus as they struggle to understand all the ways in which he does not conform to their expectations. They are mired in the norms of their day, in all of the ways Jesus is not. They keep coming to him with ideas. They hope to impress him, they long for his approval. They want him to validate their piety, which is still for the most part based on the historical teachings of their faith as relayed by the religious leaders of their day.

But Jesus keeps upending the morals of the times.

You can spend a long time pondering the actions of the disciples in this Luke 9 scenario.

They and Jesus have just been snubbed by their frienemies the Samaritans. Where do their minds—conditioned by their culture—immediately go? To revenge! But not just an eye-for-an-eye revenge. They go straight to the nuclear option.

“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them”? they ask.

Let’s get this straight. They’ve been snubbed. So in response, they want to kill everyone and destroy the village too, Sodom-and-Gomorrah-style.

And they think Jesus will be on the same wavelength.

More than this, they ask him to sanction their thinking and the potential action. Jesus, if you give us the go-ahead, because you’re the one with the power and we’re with you, we will be able to command heaven (angels? Maybe the Father Himself?) to kill and destroy to avenge your honor. Or something.

At this point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, what do they think following Jesus is all about? They have never seen Jesus himself behave like this. They have never heard anything in his message that would leave them believing he would condone this kind of thinking and action. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So where does this bloodthirsty attitude come from?

And of course, we know the answer. From their culture. From what religious authorities have told them about their religion. From their parents and family. From their friends and neighbors.

The one place it does not come from is Jesus. They are so not with the program. Luke writes that Jesus rebukes them, and they simply move along to another village. That’s the solution to the original problem. Not spectacular, out-of-proportion retribution from above. Just… let it go and move to the next village.

How the disciples’ heads must have spun at that. What they had believed would be the height of pious response is not. In fact, it is completely the wrong response.

Bless their hearts, the disciples try and try to understand, but get it wrong constantly. However, each time they do, the wall surrounding their preconceptions gets another crack in it. Another little bit crumbles off.

The wall does not start showing larger breaches until after the Resurrection. And even then, even now, big chunks remain.

In the U.S. in this era, Christians have become more and more known for taking the harshest stances on issues of social change. We are seen as the people who will not offer mercy to others. We are known as the most petty and closed-minded persons, falling for the tricks of those who would manipulate us for their purposes.

Not coincidently, these traits, positions, attitudes and actions do not accurately represent who Jesus was or what he taught. What they represent is the thinking of the disciples in this Luke 9 passage. They represent the remaining chunks of the wall bound by cultural and tribal thinking. Sadly, they also represent places where so-called Christian leaders have tried to patch the wall with distorted ideas of what the faith is all about.

But I am confident that Jesus has us on a trajectory. His example is always one of more inclusion, more dignity, more grace, more compassion, more empathy, and more recognition of our shared humanity. The chunks will continue to fall, taking with them the ill-advised patches, until the last vestiges of the wall crumble.

Oh that this would be the trajectory of our churches and our personal expressions of faith. What a key this would be to the growth of an authentic, Christ-centered message for the world! How it would impact the health of our churches! How it would contribute to the salvation and betterment of humanity and the entire world!

May God use us all as instruments of this vision.

He turned and rebuked them.
—Luke 9:55