Who do you think the world would be better off without? It’s a tough question, isn’t it, if we’re really going to be honest? Though, it doesn’t seem too tough of a question for James and John.
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem – a strange phrase that Luke uses here that seems to speak to Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem. It’s like he’s got blinders on, like one puts on a horse, and all he can see is straight ahead. Of course, we know what’s coming when he gets to Jerusalem. Jesus is headed toward the cross, and nothing’s going to distract him or turn him away from that. And we know that, through the cross, God in Christ will be reconciling the whole world to himself. The whole world, not just those Jesus and his disciples find it easy to get along with, or those who agree with everything Jesus and his disciples stand for, or do, or believe, not just their fellow Jews, but the whole world!
Jesus will make that point again, even more clearly, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which we’ll get to in a couple of weeks from now. For now, the point is made in response to James and John’s reaction to a particular Samaritan town’s failure to receive Jesus. You see, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, and he sends his disciples ahead of him, so that he can stop along the way. Presumably they’d be arranging food and lodging, and Jesus would not have to deal with such everyday kind of concern, but could focus on proclaiming the good news, and doing miracles and such, as he’s done elsewhere.
But they come to a Samaritan village – a village of people who, remember, were religious and cultural enemies of the Jews – and the people there decide this Jesus guy, who’s Jewish, and who’s determined to go to Jerusalem, the Jewish Capital, just isn’t their cup of tea. And James and John are very put off by this, so they ask Jesus if they should carpet bomb the joint, make the sand glow, don’t you know, wipe them off the face of the earth with fire from heaven! It’s all just so very human!
It’s the same stuff we hear today in religion and culture, isn’t it?
- It’s like the saying: “Kill them all and let God sort them out”, which is originally traced back to the slaughter of the Cathars, in France, during the Albigensian Crusades of the 1200s, but was also often used as an unofficial slogan by Special Forces fighting in Vietnam, and, more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it became: “Kill them all and let Allah sort them out”, using the Arabic word for God.
- It was just a handful of months ago that a then candidate for the Presidency used that “carpet bombing”, “sand glowing” language to describe how he thought we, as a nation, should respond to the threat of terrorism.
For such people the world would be better off if Muslims, or at least certain Muslims, just didn’t exist.
- It’s what we heard just after the Orlando shooting, from so-called Christian Pastors in Texas and Sacramento who prayed for the death of the remaining gunshot victims from Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and said that the US military ought to line up all gay people in the country and execute them by firing squad. You can find video of these people.
For such people, the world would be better off if LGBT people didn’t exist.
Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?
Notice in Jesus’ response there is no condemnation of the Samaritans, no rejection of them for rejecting him, no retribution, no eye for an eye. The only response Luke records is that Jesus turned and rebuked, not the Samaritans, but James and John!
- There is no room for such hate
- There is no room for such violence
- There is no room for such retribution in the name of God, and certainly not for disciples of Jesus…
Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, and those who follow him must realize and always remember that the way of Christ is the way of the cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”: “When Christ calls a person, he bids them: ‘Come and die.’” This is the life to which Christ has called us and all disciples. It is a life of paradox, a life of contradiction.
- If you want to save your life, you must lose it
- True greatness is displayed in servanthood
- The way to life, is through death – dying to ourselves, our desires, our sinfulness, our self-righteousness.
And, as we read in Galatians chapter 5 today, the freedom we experience as disciples of Jesus, is the freedom to, through love, become slaves to one another. You see, love and discipleship, in this sense, mean the same thing. Love equates to servanthood, or, as Paul says, love equates to slavery, for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Now I’ve always found it interesting how those in the fundamentalist camp, like those pastors in Texas and Sacramento I mentioned earlier, and others who like to consider themselves as above, more righteous, more holy than others, like to pick and choose certain verses from books like Leviticus, verses from the Old Testament law, and apply a wooden literal interpretation to our modern context. But, as Paul does here in Galatians, and as Jesus will do in Luke chapter 10, in his encounter with the lawyer that leads to Jesus’ telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, have you noticed that such folks never seem to go back to Leviticus 19:18 where God says: “You shall take no vengeance, or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” They never seem to cherry-pick this verse, which Jesus says is among the most important commandments of all, likening it to what he calls the most important commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” for the two truly must be held together. It is not possible to love God, and to not love your neighbor who is created in God’s own image and likeness. It’s just not possible.
You shall take no vengeance, or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
- To seek vengeance
- To hold a grudge
- To bite and devour one another
These are antithetical to love. Such things, like all the works of the flesh, only end up consuming those who practice them. You might think of it this way: It’s not so much that we’re punished for doing such sinful things, as that we’re punished by doing them. Paul says that those who are caught up in doing the works of the flesh will never inherit the Kingdom of God, but, again, that’s more descriptive than it is proscriptive. It’s really more a matter of being punished by your sins, than it is about being punished for your sins. If you’re caught up in enmity, and strife, and anger, and quarrels, and all the rest, you miss out on the Kingdom of God, because God’s Kingdom is antithetical to such things.
God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of love and servanthood. God’s reign is a reign marked by joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and the like.
A life of sin and the works of the flesh comes with consequences, but so, too, does a life lived by the fruits of the Spirit. The consequence of sin and vengeance, as Gandhi once put it, is: “An eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind.” But the consequence of a life lived according to the fruit of the Spirit, is love active in service of our neighbor.
James and John, like so many of us, in so many ways throughout our lives, and throughout human history for that matter, have thought the world would be better off if only, fill in the blank, no longer existed. And we took that to its logical conclusion when God showed up in the flesh – we killed him, because we couldn’t bear to hear his call to love. We couldn’t bear to hear the call to take up the cross and follow the one whose face was set toward Jerusalem and the cross.
May we, guided by the Spirit, receive and follow that call today, and may our lives be marked by the fruits of the Spirit.