51 When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; 52 and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. 54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.
What is the Christian response to rejection?
Do we assert our rights? Do we complain about other people? Do we retreat into ourselves and over-analyze and criticize ourselves looking for ways in which we have failed? Do we become depressed thinking we are worthless?
Or do we become angry at the rejection? Do we smile internally and fantasize about our rejecter trembling in fear at an angry God on Judgment Day and begging for mercy only to be denied and cast into eternal torture while we look on with a smug, serene “I told you so” expression?
Are we angry at the rejection? Or are we angry because the other person is not responding to us in the way in which we expected of them? Is our self-esteem or pride hurt because we believe ourselves to be smart, worthwhile, good people, and their response to us offends that self-image?
Samaritans and Jews did not get along well. The Samaritans were the descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel and immigrants that the Assyrian Empire brought into the land when they conquered the northern tribes. Jewish people were the descendants of the kingdom of Judah which outlasted Israel, but was later conquered by Babylon. Those who returned from Babylon were led by pious leaders who took the Mosaic law and its prohibitions against interracial marriage strictly to the point where Jews who had married non-Jewish women were ordered to divorce them. (Ezra 9 and 10)
So there were racial, social, religious, and political differences between Jews and Samaritans that made them highly antagonistic to one another. Pious Jews of the day would travel out of their way to avoid walking through Samaria. Not Jesus. Jesus walked right on through.
James and John probably thought this one of Jesus’ many oddities that they accepted. They were Jews, so it is likely that they held the common prejudices of the day, and viewed the Samaritans with disdain. So I think they were expecting gratitude from the Samaritans that James and John (and their Lord, of course) would stay in the Samaritan village at all.
So when the village did not meet their expectation, they were angry. Didn’t these people know they were dealing with James and John? The number one and number two man in the coming kingdom… well, if they had their way, they would be #1 and #2. Oh, and Jesus, of course. But how dare those ungrateful heathens not allow us into their village.
So they want to bring the fire. Literally. They want those ungrateful Samaritans to die in a fire. One that they would bring. And then how sorry they’d be. MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
I think our response to the world is similar. When we meet people who reject us or reject our churches or reject our religion or reject the existence of God; when we meet people who embrace different political or social values than we do, we encounter someone who shakes our world view, our expectations. They challenge the way we perceive things to be, and in response, a lot of times, I think we embrace anger. Maybe not a deliberate anger, but a slow, deep seated, low burning anger that lets us see them as enemies. Maybe we do harbor that little vengeance fantasy of imagining them cowering before us (and Jesus, of course, always Jesus) realizing how wrong they were (and conversely how right we are) before they are irrevocably given punishment for their foolishness in rejecting us (and Jesus, right? This is all about Jesus, we say.)
What is Jesus’ response to rejection?
He goes to the next village and leaves them in peace. He accepts the situation for what it is and He moves on with His life and His plans. He doesn’t respond with anger, except to the two disciples who wanted to murder an entire village with hellfire for not letting them spend the night.
Jesus chooses to respond with peace. Later, He would respond to the ultimate rejection of His person by praying for humanity for not knowing what it was doing.
Later manuscripts add the words attributed to Jesus here, but even if they are a pious fiction, they capture a good message for us. In our responses to people, ponder why we feel the way we do and remember what Spirit dwells within us. And remember how Jesus responded to rejection.
John eventually did come around, because in Acts 8, we find this footnote in the narrative:
25 After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.
Let us repent of our own pride and choose to respond to others (including those who reject us or oppose us) in the Charity, compassion, and Spirit of our Lord. And let us not allow our wounded pride or failed expectations to drive us to anger, bitterness, and a callous attitude towards our fellow man.