March 31, 2021
In the ancient world, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. The conflict between the two groups went back hundreds of years and frequently reached levels of venom and spite that we rarely see in our culture. It was common for Jews to kick the dust off their feet before leaving Samaria to make sure they didn’t bring any Samaritan soil with them to their own countries. Jews often crossed the street and spit in the road when they passed Samaritans. Jewish rabbis didn’t even consider Samaritans to be a class of neighbor when discussing the “Love your neighbor as yourself” command in the Scriptures. In the weeks before Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the events of Holy Week, which we celebrate during Easter, he had to travel through Israel to get there. The fastest way to get there from the area where he did much of his ministry required him to pass through Samaria. His disciples were told to go ahead and prepare the way for him in towns they would pass through. When one Samaritan village heard they were on their way to Jerusalem, they refused to welcome him. This is because Samaritans were opposed to the Jewish practice of worshipping God in Jerusalem. At that time, refusing to welcome a traveler was a pretty huge insult. The gospel of Luke records the disciples’ response. James and John asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven to destroy the city as punishment for the insult. It was probably easier to ask for such a thing since they really disliked Samaritans anyway. The insult just gave a convenient excuse. Jesus responded by rebuking them. The crazy thing about this event is that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins on the world. This included the Samaritans and everyone else. The disciples were responding from a normal human perspective: hate your enemies and do your best to defeat them. They wanted God to destroy folks they disapproved of. Jesus would be tortured and die for those same people. This is why, not too long afterward, Luke records that the same guys were in Samaria welcoming these people into God’s family and sharing the good news with them. Their change of heart was dramatic, and it was a result of seeing the world from a completely different point of view. They wanted to love and serve the folks that Jesus died to save. As we celebrate Easter this week, those of us who love and follow Jesus are faced with a temptation to respond to the world around us in a manner similar to the disciples. Our culture, politics, and general discourse has degraded into something that is neither right nor good. Regardless of how we see the actions, beliefs, and thoughts of the people who are the modern equivalent of our Samaritans, Jesus died for them. It’s easy to want God to pour fire down on our political, ideological, theological, or personal enemies. Anger and hatred are easy and they can feel good. But, as Paul pointed out, when we were sinners and living as enemies of God, Jesus died to save us. Our calling as a result of that salvation is to become like Jesus. This means loving God’s enemies and praying for them. They may do hurtful things. They may attack us. This doesn’t change our calling. This week, we should celebrate Christ’s death for sinners (you and me both) and love folks.