When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 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 towards Jerusalem. His disciples James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus rebuked them. Then they went on to another village (Luke 9.51-56)
I like, no, I love being right. Accurate in my assessments, my judgments about myself and, yes, other people and about my circumstances and my choices. For being right embraces the possibility, the probability that my actions will achieve my desired outcomes, even more importantly, will mirror my values, still more grandly, will stand up to the test of history.
Therefore, I hate being wrong. Equally, if I’m honest (though this, admittedly, isn’t an aspect of my best self, but it is a part of the self I know), I hate having my assessments and judgments challenged.
Therefore, I understand James and John.
The Samaritan villagers didn’t welcome Jesus. There was an ancient and well-known enmity between Samaritans and Jews, which, I think, at least, would explain the former’s refusal to extend hospitality to Jesus. Nevertheless, James’ and John’s first impulse, perhaps, justified by their loyalty to Jesus and their belief in his cause, was to strike back. Being right is a powerful, perhaps, irresistible motivator for vengeance. And there was precedent for their violent response. No greater a luminary than the chiefest prophet of old, Elijah, had called down fire from heaven on his adversaries.(1)
Nevertheless, Jesus had another agenda. Not retaliation, but rather recommitment to the mission. Hence, he rebuked James and John and “they went on to another village.”
As a highly and deeply opinionated person who oft is content to reside and remain within the walls of his supposed-wisdom, the next time someone challenges my point of view, I will pray:
Lord, by Your Spirit, grant me anew the power of Your Love, subdue my self-righteousness, muffle my mouth, loosen my ears that I may listen and learn what it is that You have to tell and teach me. Amen.
(1) 2 Kings 1.9-12. King Ahaziah, injured in a fall, desired to the consult the god Ba’al about his recovery. The Prophet Elijah, zealous for the Lord God, prophesied that Ahaziah would not recover and die. Ahaziah sent soldiers, two cohorts of fifty, to arrest Elijah, who called down fire from heaven to kill them.
Illustration: Elijah calling fire from Heaven to destroy the soldiers of King Ahaziah, Gaspare Diziani (1689-1767)