Jesus dissed in Samaria
AND CALLS DOWN FIRE?
Palestine under the Roman occupation of the 1st century wasn’t Israel the way we think of it today; that name was scarcely in use. Some “countries” in the region were Jewish and others were not.
Jesus spent most of his life in Galilee (blue, at left, just west of the “Sea of Galilee”). As the time for his death approaches—the way Luke tells it— he begins the journey south to Judea and its hub, Jerusalem. Jerusalem, on the map at left, is just west of the north end of the Dead Sea. Much of Luke’s gospel after 9:51 takes place on the road to Jerusalem.
Between Galilee and Judea is Samaria: in effect, a foreign country. Samaritans, whose core stock were Jews not taken into exile centuries earlier when most were, saw themselves as holders of the true faith, convinced the “Jews” had compromised truth away while serving Babylon’s courts. Jews, meanwhile, thought Samaritans had so mingled with native religions that they were no longer pure. And thus began yet another of religion’s “adventures in missing the point.”
Normally, observant Jews skirted Samaria by veering into the Jordan valley, avoiding “contamination.” Jesus, however, plunges into the Samaritan countryside, ignoring the taboo.
And one time, as they travelled …
He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?”
Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
They don’t get it. They don’t get him.
They’re getting his Messiah-claim. It means, they figure, he’s heading to Jerusalem to seize power, whip the Romans, and re-create the Jewish nation. Surely teaching these bastards a lesson—for bastards is what they were to them—would be perfectly appropriate for the King-to-be. Yet Jesus seems amazed that they’d suggest it.
And they’re starting to get his God-claim. For the Son of God to be so insulted, well, that couldn’t be allowed, now could it? There’s honor and all that! If we allow insults to our God, what does it say about us, after all?
Jesus rebukes them instead of the Samaritans! Then he simply turns back to the road and walks away.
Boy, oh boy. I’m them. How many times—as a husband, a pastor, just as a guy—have I drawn lines in the sand ready to insist on vindication, only to feel a cold wind of the soul and discover Jesus has gone on down the road.
Apparently the problem is not unique to me. How history would be different if we Christians had let Jesus rub this lesson deeply into our minds.
Consider the fateful meeting of Atahuallpa, king of the Incas, and Francisco Pizarro of Spain, as told by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Pizarro led an isolated band of 168 Spanish soldiers into the Peruvian highland town Cajamarca. Atahuallpa “was in the middle of his own empire of millions of subjects and immediately surrounded by his army of 80,000 soldiers.” It would be “the greatest collision of modern history.”
Pizarro hid infantry, cavalry, artillery. Atahuallpa approached, born high on the royal litter by eighty lords, preceded by 2,000 sweepers, followed by warriors. The Spaniards in hiding would later write that they were so terrified “we pissed ourselves.”
Friar Vicente de Valverde advanced toward Atahuallpa with a cross and a Bible. “I am a priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God, and in like manner I come to teach you. … On the part of God and of the Christians, I beseech you to be their friend, for such is God’s will, and it will be for your good.” From the Spaniards’ journals:
Atahuallpa asked for the Book, that he might look at it, and the Friar gave it to him closed. Atahuallpa did not know how to open the Book, and the Friar was extending his arm to do so, when Atahuallpa, in great anger, gave him a blow on the arm … Then he opened it himself, and, without any astonishment at the letters and paper he threw it away from him five or six paces, his face a deep crimson.
The Friar returned to Pizarro, shouting, “Come out! Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God. That tyrant has thrown my book of holy law to the ground! Did you not see what happened? When remain polite and servile toward this over-proud dog … March out against him, for I absolve you!
Massacre ensued. Atahuallpa was captured, promised with release, later murdered. Europeans got rich.
Jesus Christ’s response to Valverde, had the friar heard it, was something on the order of “Of course not!” Fifteen centuries after the cross, this lesson was not yet understood as Jesus 101.
Is it yet? Is not honor offended still seen as cause for judgment? Do we not still move through the space of others and demand they treat us like honored guests? And, as government is something of the sum of our collective world-views, is it any surprise that we send armies against nations—especially those of other-than-Christian faiths— when they anger us?
Jesus Christ, by contrast, esteemed Samaritans. He talked respectfully with a Samaritan woman at Sychar. He used a Samaritan man as an example of goodness (in a story told in opposition to heartless orthodoxy): it’s what we call “the parable of the good Samaritan.”
Would he give destruction in response to disrespect?
Institutions do, seems like, be they sacred or secular. And we humans certainly have the temptation.
But if I want to be like Jesus?
Of course not!
This is part of a sermon given on July 1, 2007, in response to Luke 9.51-56 and the Revised Common Lectionary’s Proper 8 C. I hope to post more of it soon.
Tags: Samaritans, Luke+9.51, Atahuallpa, Pizarro, Incas, Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Lectionary+8+(13), Proper+8+C+(13), Sermon+July+1, call+down+fire, Samaria, Monte Asbury