As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do You want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then He and His disciples went to another village.
- Luke 9:51-55
Over the last week, a flurry of videos and articles have been forwarded to me by various people. It seems the war between Hamas and Israel is fertile soil for a proliferation of speculation about the plans of God depending upon on how one reads the Scripture. The “Ring of Fire” eclipse had a multiplier effect for conjecture about God’s activity. I know it’s not fashionable to admit this, but inasmuch as I believe the heavens and the earth glorify God in their existence, I am open to the signs and wonders in nature. Certainly, the Scriptures attest to creation’s service to and praise of its Creator. Who am I to say what God can and cannot do? That said, I am not as certain that I know how to recognize and interpret the signs portending the work of God now and in the future.
In general, what I saw and read was interesting and seemed possible, at least to me, except one video that was so factually incorrect – even regarding basic knowledge of Scripture – as to render any conclusions null. Ironically, it was the one of the most popular videos viewed (which really doesn’t speak too highly of our catechetical efforts). The only way to know if any of these are truly prophetic words from God is in retrospect when we can see whether what was foretold came to pass.
The comments section always catches my attention. Following one article on sacred sites, the exchanges between Protestant and Catholic Christians echoed the violence of sixteenth century Christianity when Protestantism came into being. I am not Roman Catholic and do not agree with all Roman Catholic teaching, but it does seem a bit brazen to claim all Catholics are deluded and going to hell. One Protestant’s certain judgment of all things Catholic reminded me of nothing so much as papal infallibility in a little protestant pope.
We do like to be right. It’s a universal human trait we can find everywhere. It’s a sin, that. I always want to be right and win arguments, so I totally understand the impulse. But it’s still a sin. Jesus was right. For goodness’ sake, Jesus is Truth! However, He didn’t win the argument with the Roman Empire or the Temple leaders, but instead, He won our salvation. He chose to go to the Cross because He loves. Indeed, the entire trajectory of human history turned an irrevocable corner when He rose and death was defeated.
The Samaritans were a mixed bag, literally and figuratively. They were the descendants of the Assyrians that conquered Israel in 722 BC and the Israelis that remained after the Assyrian victors carried off the best and brightest to be slaves. The Samaritans were like the Jews, but not. There were variations in belief, but the most obvious difference was where they worshipped. (See John 4.)
When the Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus, James and John were offended on Jesus’ behalf and magnanimously offered to destroy the village for Him, which, when you think about it, is a strange offer – first, that they thought they had that power, and second, that Jesus would need them to do it rather than Himself. Not surprisingly, we exhibit that same trait also, but usually in less dramatic ways. We decide what God wants done, then ask His blessing, and get after doing the work. I wonder how often we are wrong like James and John.
Jesus chose to go another way on His journey. That, right there, is something to hold at the forefront of our thinking during this time of spreading hostilities and rapid change. Jesus chose to go another way.
At the moment we need to bear witness to Christ, Christians are hurling invectives at one another on social media with a ferocity that is as shameful as it is embarrassing. The “follow Jesus or burn in hell” strain of evangelism has never been very convincing or effective, and I find it hard to believe that the Lord Who wept over Jerusalem’s rejection would encourage us to condemn one another. Our life today is still stable and comfortable, but warnings of impending terrorism are getting louder. Additionally, the cracks in our national cohesion are rapidly becoming deep, perhaps irreparable, fissures. What is taken for granted today may well become hellish for us all if we continue to feed the acrimony and division, and Christians need one another. Rather than coming together to seek the Lord in trust and obedience, our lack of faith is expressed in desperation and false certainty.
God will do what He wants to do, and we can be assured that whatever God chooses will be for our benefit. Eventually. God did not create in order to destroy, and He does not give life just to condemn. Each of us can catch glimpses of what God is doing in this moment, if we humbly and prayerfully desire to participate with Him, but not one of us knows the mind of God in full. We do not know what is coming next, and we cannot even see the whole picture right now. Like James and John, we are often far too eager to call down fire on others when our Lord would have us go another way.
Last week, I listened to a Victor Davis Hanson podcast to get his perspective on the Hamas attack on Israel. His is a measured voice in the cacophony of blather, knowledgeable without pretending to be all-knowing, even with a stunning breadth and depth of historical knowledge. In the middle of the unscripted podcast, Hanson referenced the Sermon on the Mount. Of all the theological possibilities and various sacred texts to which he could point, I am pretty sure the Sermon on the Mount has the least authority for both sides in this war, and that is my point.
Jesus has shown us another way to go, and we need to follow that pathway. Following Jesus is not an insurance policy against bad people or wars or indiscriminate suffering. In fact, Jesus told us would be subject to unjust suffering in a world that hates Him. Only, Jesus didn’t call it unjust. He said that a world that rejected Him would reject His disciples. That we fight with one another is an appalling witness to our Lord. What is He going to say to us? “Congratulations. You won the argument even though you did turn all those people against Me.”
God desires to save. Our whole existence arises out of God’s lavish and unconditional love. His love is not defined by middle class American values nor confined by human boundaries but is poured out on all people. The most powerful video I saw in the last week was not the carnage and death, although there was enough of that to grieve our souls for a long time to come. No, the most powerful, the most moving and humbling, the most awe-inspiring video was of a former ISIS member recounting the story of hearing a Voice tell him that he is forgiven. He wept as he said he knew Allah is forgiving and merciful but not until the day of judgment could he know if Allah forgave him. So, he asked Who spoke to him, and he heard, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Having never heard anything like that, the soldier asked for a name. “Jesus Christ, the living God.”
No one, no one, falls beyond the love of God. If we will not share the love of Christ with the world, then He will go around us. What He is not going to do is rain down fire from heaven to destroy human beings. If we want to be part of what God is doing next, then we must love. We go another way when we follow Christ in love of people.
It is so much easier to be right than to love. Far from suggesting that truth does not matter – for such a suggestion is a denial of Christ Himself – nothing more clearly draws a line in the sand between right and wrong or good and evil than Christian teaching. The problem is that none of us is truly good or always right, and once it becomes a matter of degree, it doesn’t really matter what the degree is because it’s miniscule by comparison to the infinite goodness and perfect knowledge of God.
Eventually, we discover that the truth merges into Divine love, and that love is the greatest force on earth – far greater than missiles and bombs, far wiser than any mortal leader, and far stronger than hate and greed. Victory lies with those who go the way of Jesus that passes through the Cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” The command is to love one another as Christ Jesus first loved us.
Whatever the days and months ahead may hold – and it’s not looking too good – we will not fail if we love as Jesus loved. We may die, but we will not fail. The pathway of Jesus Christ is the way to go. Let’s walk together following in His footsteps.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau