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.
The "sons of thunder" are at it again. Rain down the fire, Jesus! They deserve it!
Some early manuscripts of the book of Luke include a final phrase on the end of Jesus’ above statement. “Jesus turned and rebuked them,” it reads, “and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of…’”
They are excited about Jesus bringing the revenge. Jesus decides to hold up a mirror.
Isn’t it just the worst when we’re full of righteous anger toward another, and then Jesus asks us to look inwardly instead and evaluate our own character?
Our world is full of constant battles between good and evil. If only it was clear who fits into those categories! Why can’t life be like our superhero fantasy movies? There's good and there’s evil. It’s straightforward. Sometimes they even color code the light sabers to help us out.
And yet, standing before Jesus and in simple honesty, we cannot deny the well-known words penned in 1973 by Soviet dissident and Christian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
"The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that amazing truth illustrated the other day when one of our littlest LifePath kids picked up two plastic light sabers at a park and found a way to shove them together and turn it into one giant morally ambiguous toy. That’s us, isn’t it? Some light, some dark, right there in our hands. The struggle is real.
Jesus leads us to the uncomfortable truth that the first step in making the world right is to be personally transformed in the deep places. To have the selfishness, the greed, the anger, and the violence in our own hearts replaced with grace, life, compassion, and love. Then perhaps we can know how to handle the darkness that we encounter.
Jesus is deeply powerful, and he gives us power. But the purpose of that power is often misunderstood. At the risk of undermining my comment about how movies lack the complexity of actual life, last week I saw one that succeeded. My wife and I watched Dr. Strange, which is a Marvel Universe film about a former star surgeon who begins to understand that there is a mystical and powerful reality beyond what he has believed. In one conversation between Strange’s future mentor and a current student, the mentor shares her reluctance to teach Dr. Strange, because he may become lost in the temptation to use that power incorrectly. The student responds by asking her to remember his own journey...
"You didn’t lose me. I wanted the power to defeat my enemies. You gave me the power to defeat my demons…”
That’s a pretty good Jesus statement right there. Sit with it. We may desire God’s power to be used to change everything about the world that we don’t like. But most often, God’s power comes through self-giving grace, changing us in such a way that the world changes, just a little. Until it happens over and over again. Then the world changes a lot. This is such good news. Jesus has come to save us from the power of sin, and also to save us from the systems of revenge, violence, and enemy-making that we have learned to live by. We all have demons that we fight. And we all are tempted to take those hurts and pains and project them onto those around us instead of allowing Jesus to deal with them directly.
So maybe we need to start with the basics again.
We acknowledge that we have both light and darkness within us.
We hear the words of Jesus offering grace but also calling us to be transformed inwardly.
We then receive the spirit of Jesus as we look around our world, so that compassion leads us to offer an alternative, rather than just getting upset.
Isn’t that good news?
Jesus, speak the words that I need to hear today, whether they be grace or rebuke. Search my heart so that humility and compassion characterize my life.