A couple days ago, I posted a blog entitled “Burning Down the Village.” In it, I cited the Luke 9:51-55 passage in which James and John wanted to call down fire from on high to burn a Samaritan village that had rejected Jesus. Jesus, of course, would have none of it, reprimanded them, and they went on their way.
Thinking further about that passage, it donned on me that James and John may have been more concerned with their egos than the acceptance of their Master by some strangers. Calling down fire from heaven as retribution was obviously way out of Jesus’ wheelhouse. I can’t recall him doing anything remotely like that. If anyone should have understood that, it would have been his disciples. Yet here they were, ready for some vengeance when none was needed (or called for).
Jesus would often get into it with the Pharisees, but calling down fire wasn’t even a remote thought in his dialogue with them. James and John had been around for a lot of those heated discussions. Still, they were willing to do their own thing had Jesus allowed them.
“He was standing right there…”
Our two fiery disciples wanted to flex their muscles at someone else’s expense. They were willing to forego Jesus’ teaching to do it. They wanted to venture out into a new frontier of spirituality—judgment. Their real problem was the authentic judge. He was standing right there and gave them the dickens.
None of us has the right to do what our two friendly neighborhood apostles wanted to do. Like these Sons of Thunder, however, we are often more than willing. Calling down the fire is sometimes our first move. Get out the judgment stick and beat our adversaries silly.
Their attitude was nothing new. It wasn’t new then, and it’s certainly not new now. Despite the teachings of our Lord, we continue to follow in the footsteps of James and John rather than those of Jesus. Just read a history of the church and you’ll see what I mean.
“He even misused a verse…”
I recently read an article by a preacher who excoriated some of his fellow clergy for praying for our President. While I understand his argument, his article was reminiscent of the attitude we see in Luke 9. He even misused a verse of Scripture to attempt to prove his point.
This sort of thing has been going on forever. When are we going to learn that none of us has a corner on the truth? It’s one thing to discuss the meaning of various Biblical passages. It’s quite another to use them against someone to prop up our own viewpoint.
Jesus’ reaction to James and John in their moment of hutzpah speaks volumes. We, as Christians, disagree on a lot of things. Discussion, dialogue, and even flat-out arguments are going to occur. But when we dismiss the call for Christian unity by bashing each other, we’ve gone too far. We’ve got enough enemies already without turning on each other.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]