And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.- Luke 9:52-56
Have you ever been told you're not welcome somewhere? If you haven't, well, you can stop reading right here. For the rest of us, isn't it true, that whether someone has told us or not, we know when people want us around, and when they don't? We've learned the places we can go to feel accepted, and also those places to avoid. Usually we surround ourselves with people who enjoy our company; who offer us hospitality; a place at the table where our voice is not just heard, but valued. You know, the people who know all our quirks and beliefs and opinions and agendas, and still enjoy our company. As my friend Pete used to say, "people who know the punch line, but still stick around for the show."
Samaria was one of those places Jesus knew he would not be welcomed. Samaritans and Jews didn't mix. There was a longstanding religious competition between the northern kingdom of Israel (the capital was Samaria) and the southern kingdom, (Judah- capital, Jerusalem) about the right place to worship. Since Jesus's "face was set toward Jerusalem" the Samaritans most likely figured, 'why bother to put up with him and his lot?' Theological differences are the worst!
The disciples are so offended they want to burn the place down.- actually, they want to call on God to burn the place down. Sounds about right.
Jesus, of course, isn't going to condone bringing fire down upon anybody, and he rebukes them.
I know the word rebuke means to correct, but I like to think, when Jesus does the rebuking, that he waves his hand in a dismissive manner and says "oh please" with a Jersey edge. "Fuhgettaboutit..."
Did this mean he didn't care about the Samaritans? On the contrary, Jesus' is all about bringing in the nations & peoples who have been excluded, marginalized, and demonized; God is an inclusive God, after all. In fact, in the very next chapter, Jesus chooses a Samaritan to be the hero of the parable!
But right now, Jesus needs to keep the group moving to where he is being called. The next part of his mission will be accomplished in Jerusalem. It's an amazing show of discernment on Jesus's part. He could have gone through Samaria anyway; he could have tried to do ministry there, could have tried to show them God's love despite their reservations- he could have told them the truth about God- surely Jesus would have won them over, surely they were worth the time.
Of course they were worth it- but Jesus gives us a great example here of staying focused on what God is calling us to, today. There will always be people and places we pass by on our way to where God calls us. But not every person or every place is for us to stop and minister. God's path for each of us takes us to specific people and places; the breadth and depth of our ministry, no matter who we are, can not possibly include every person and every place. That's where discernment comes in. It's where obedience comes in. It's where defining our call and listening to the Spirit's direction comes in.
When we're obedient to where God is calling us, even if our call is difficult, we will experience God's peace; it's how we know we are in the right place. God's grace and love will surely reach everyone, but not all through you.
Where, and to whom, are you being called to minister today?