JP Williams is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Archie, MO.
Remember that time a few of the Disciples wanted to burn a village down?
Luke 9:51–56 (ESV) A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 And they went on to another village.
As a stranger approached a community on their travels in the first century, they knew there was a cultural obligation for that community to extend hospitality to you. Stories from the ancient world recount travelers waiting in the square for someone to offer them room and board for the night. If they looked safe enough (i.e. not a fugitive on the lam), or perhaps needy enough (giving alms was a way to build patronage and honor for your household), the doors would be opened.
If someone was determined undesirable for whatever reason (ethnicity, uncleanness, etc.) they may find themselves sleeping along the highways and in the hedges (cf. Lk 14). A lack of hospitality was more than a refusal to set your table, or roll out the futon for someone though; it was a wholesale indictment and rejection of them and whatever or whomever they stood for.
The Jews had been at odds with the Samaritans for as long as there had been Samaritans, and that door swung both ways. Jews did not associate with Samaritans (cf. Jn 4). But notice, the reason for them to “light the no of their vacancy sign” was not that they were Jews, but because they were traveling to Jerusalem. “No itinerant Nazarene evangelists wanted”.
As you might imagine, the disciples were nonplussed at this affront to their master’s honor. What had Jesus done to deserve that sort of snub? Besides, who wanted to stay in that crummy Samaritan village anyhow? In fact, imagine this moment:
Disciples: “Lord, they won’t let us stay there. All booked up they said. Stinking Samaritans…” Jesus: “Well, I told you we would often have no place to lay our head. Tunics and stones again tonight boys.” James and John: “Lord, let’s make an example of them so that no one ever rejects you again. Let’s call down fire from heaven and burn that village to the ground.” Jesus: (perhaps calmly, perhaps visibly shaken at their stupidity) “You really don’t get this yet, do you?”
This was not an Elijah moment. This was a Kingdom moment, and the Kingdom of God would not be built by violence, by intimidation, by the sort of power that men built their sand castles with, but by the power of God, by redemption not retaliation.
As I read about Missouri Bill SJR39 (a religious freedom bill which I support), the whole situation can raise our blood pressure. It can cause us to feel angry, confused, to be put upon and even unwelcome. As farfetched as it seems, we could envision a day when Christians are not only the religious minority in America, but also openly discriminated against (and I believe we have seen some of this already).
But that doesn’t give us the right to shoot off our keyboards. To objectify or villainize or dehumanize folks we don’t see eye to eye with, those whose life choices we would not make and do not embrace. It is possible to stand up for our convictions in a convincing manner, to stand up for what we believe in, in a way that in winsome and effective rather than calling down fire from heaven on our enemies when we should weep for their brokenness. Remember that whole “love your enemies” thing? Jesus really meant that. And a better start is to remember who the real Enemy is anyhow (cf. Eph 6).
It should not surprise us when the world rejects a Gospel that would call down fire from heaven for refusing to allow Jesus to make a reservation. There was no room in the inn in the beginning of his story, and there shall be less and less room as the story moves to its conclusion. But we ought to be sure as we champion truth, that captivate those whom it can set free with our love, not tear them down in our disgust (Eph 4).
James and John had a lot to learn, and so do we.