51 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, 52 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. 53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?
55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
Resentment. Anger. Desire to destroy. Rebuke and very scary warning. Alternative.
Those of us who had some small part in the political wars of the last … good grief, eleven years now … know what the disciples felt when the Samaritans rejected King Jesus. Here was the one the disciples believed would be the Savior and Redeemer of Israel, and the Samaritans were at least half Jewish by blood. Jesus already had a widely known reputation for healing people, raising them from the dead, and feeding thousands of people in the wilderness. But this first village rejected Him.
The Pharisees had successfully spread an attitude of contempt for Samaritans, because they intermarried with Gentiles, which of course was completely contrary to God’s command. Contempt breeds resentment, and when the Samaritans learned that Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, the people in this first Samaritan village took the opportunity to let their resentment show. “You’re just wanting a motel room while You’re on your way to the ‘really important’ people? Fine! Get a room – somewhere else! ”
In my lifetime, white Americans (until recently) never felt inferior to the people of any other nation. It was all too easy to look down from the giddy height of our blessed position at less fortunate, less civilized people and feel that we were inherently superior. That’s about two gnat’s eyelashes removed from hitler’s “master race” idea.
We had many legitimate reasons to feel fortunate, blessed, beyond measure. Unfortunately, after the first two generations or so of Americans, the Puritan influence waned. More and more white Americans, like the Pharisees, began to exchange “fortunate” for “superior”. That’s another story for another time. But what that story tells us here is that it’s very difficult for white Americans to truly understand how the Samaritans felt toward Jews in general, and therefore toward Jesus.
The Samaritans of Jesus’ day had inherited injustice, as a result of which they had developed an inferiority complex and a great bitterness, and there was nothing they could do about it. How do you convince anyone, even yourself, that there’s nothing inferior about yourself when you have heard from childhood, “Don’t go near [Jews, whites, whatever]. They hate us and consider us inferior.” There are parallels in our time that have nothing to do with race or religion. Fatherless children, for example. It’s tough to overcome a self-doubt, a feeling of unworthiness, that exists in your own mind, no matter how it got there.
The injustice must have burned deep into their souls. Remember “the woman at the well” in chapter 4 of John’s Gospel?
“The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan [and a] woman, for a drink?—For the Jews have nothing to do with the Samaritans.’ ” (Amplified Classic Bible)
Jews were so proud, so desirous of avoiding “contamination”, that a thirsty Jewish man asking a Samaritan for a drink was astonishing.
So we wind up at a Samaritan village which reacts to the Messiah on the basis of how someone else had treated them in the name of God, and they missed the most important event of their lives. And the disciples had picked up the attitude of the Pharisees:
“And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village.”
That phrase, “what manner of spirit you are of”, should have scared the disciples silly. It’s almost as scary as Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, satan.”
Folks, God didn’t say anything about Jews not speaking to Gentiles. God never told the Jews that they were superior beings and the Gentiles were inferior. He just told the Jews not to marry Gentiles, because Israel and only Israel was His messenger-nation to the world, and the message had to remain uncorrupted by outside influences, like false gods and the intentions of evil people. But the devil and human pride had taken what was meant to be good and turned it into a cause for bitterness, resentment, and for the Gentiles, isolation from the source of life, love, health, and happiness.
Let us not go beyond what God tells us. Let us not be the cause of bitterness toward God and the salvation He has provided for all humans. Also, let us not allow our own anger and resentment to be the basis on which we react to wounded souls. Again, some of us learned that in the political wars. It may be that we would never have changed anyone’s mind by humility and reasonableness, but we certainly had no success by responding with anger and harsh words. Let’s not make that mistake again in matters of faith.
In other words, our message as Christians is, “Come to the table…”