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Luke Study #94 – Fire From Heaven? Please?

The Gospel Of Luke

Luke 9:51-56 (CEV)

51 Not long before it was time for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. 52 He sent some messengers on ahead to a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. 53 But he was on his way to Jerusalem, so the people there refused to welcome him. 54 When the disciples James and John saw what was happening, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy these people?”

55 But Jesus turned and corrected them for what they had said. 56 Then they all went on to another village.

Fire From Heaven? Please?

Have you ever felt royally pissed off? Like, not just a little bit upset, but completely beyond yourself? Left out of an event you organized; mistreated and maligned by someone you had thought of as a dear friend; sidelined for a promotion one too many times; ignored repeatedly by a health care professional for concerns that were making life challenging on a daily basis; witness to one too many injustices against your family or community?

Have you ever been angry enough to want to call down fire from heaven?

Maybe you haven’t, but I’ve had these feelings a time or two. Injustice has a way of bringing out a wrathfulness in a lot of us that we rarely feel in general. We want to get angry. We want to throw firebombs. Fire from heaven would be even better, because it would plant us firmly in the place of moral superiority, and that always feels better. If God smites your enemies, then you get the double pleasure of seeing them burn and getting to feel smugly satisfied in your own position.

And who doesn’t want to get to feel superior? Especially when you’ve recently been hurt?

There are reasons for this village’s refusal to welcome Jesus. The Samaritan’s believed that you should worship God in one place (Mount Gerizim) and the Jews believed you should worship God in another place (Jerusalem), so if they let Jesus stay the night on his way to Jerusalem they would have been condoning his choice of where to worship God.

The disciples know this, and I think they’re fed up with it. The Samaritan’s are looked down on by the Jews. The Samaritans are descendants of the children of the interracial marriages that took place between the Babylonians and the Israelites who remained in Israel during the time of captivity in the Old Testament. And as far as the Jews are concerned they are impure racially, impure culturally, and impure religiously. Not to mention that, they’re a reminder of Israel’s less-than-awesome past. A reminder of things they’d rather forget.

So the disciples’ response isn’t simply to this one snub, but to hundreds of years of animosity between these two groups. Like so many of us, their response is less about this one event and far more about our history of pain and brokenness with the issue at large – for example, being left out of a group once hurts a bit, but doesn’t make us want to call down fire and brimstone, but when it happens over and over again we might get pretty explosive.

And their response to all of that is to ask Jesus – God’s ambassador here on earth – to set the record straight once and for all, establish the moral high ground, and rain down fire from heaven. See, cause as far as the disciples are concerned, that would sort it out. It would sort out this slight and it would sort out the entire theological debate, and it would sort out hundreds of years of history.

But Jesus says ‘no’.

He corrects them.

Apparently this isn’t the way to sort out our traumas and our hurts.

Apparently Jesus didn’t come to take our side on the theological arguments of our day.

Apparently Jesus didn’t come to obliterate our enemies in a fire bolt (however satisfying we think that would feel!)

We don’t hear in this passage what Jesus says we should do instead, but the message comes out loud and clear throughout the book of Luke, and especially in Luke 6:27-36:

27 This is what I say to all who will listen to me:

Love your enemies, and be good to everyone who hates you. 28 Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you. … 31 Treat others just as you want to be treated. …

35 [L]ove your enemies and be good to them. Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. 36 Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.

Apparently, we’re called to love – even when we’re hurt. We’re called to return curses with blessings; cruelty with prayer and kindness.

What will that look like for you?Journal Questions:

  1. Have you ever wanted to call down fire from heaven on somebody? What did it take to make you that mad? Was it just one thing? Or was it a series of things?
  2. When the fire bolt didn’t show up, how did you respond to God? To the person or people in question?
  3. If you put yourself back in that moment, what would love do? How would love return curses with blessings? How would love return cruelty with prayer and kindness?

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