They literally wanted to drop bombs on the whole town because of their lack of hospitality. Given their nickname, this was probably not their only instance of overreaction. Those sinner Samaritans said there was no room in the inn for Jews traveling to Jerusalem. So, James and John, The Sons of Thunder,1 suggested they kill every man, woman, child and animal in that Samaritan village with fire falling from the sky. Shock and awe. Power on display. Jesus was disappointed in them. “You do not know what spirit you are of,” he said. They hated the Samaritans. With Jesus, there is no room for hate.2
These young hot heads argued about which of them was the greatest and thought the power of God only belonged to them. “The least is the greatest.” Greatness in the culture of God has nothing to do with power and leadership. It is as simple as welcoming a child. Those who do, welcome Jesus and therefore welcome God. When the apostles tried to stop an outsider from exercising an authority that they thought only belonged to them, he answered with a far-reaching statement that “Whoever is not against you is for you.” No one has a corner on the power of God.3
We do not really believe that whoever is not against us is for us. We believe like James and John did then, that whoever is not explicitly with us and fully in line with us, is indeed the enemy. The wide embrace suggested by Jesus threatens our authority. Suddenly, we do not determine where to draw the line, but instead, the line is drawn for us and it includes people we might not want it to include.
And just when we think this is too much and too far, he shows us the outer regions of the faith that almost none of us have truly reached: Love your enemies and pray for them.4 Now no one is to be outside of who you love. No one.
That’s impractical. It’s impossible, idealistic, and unrealistic. So, we pay lip service to it. We talk the talk. Honestly, I don’t know how to do it. I mean, sure, I can come up with some sermons and suggestions, but come on. As I said, this is the outer region of our faith.
But, we are not always the lovers in this relationship. Each one of us has been the enemy. The Samaritans were the persecuted. They were the ones treated like dogs. So, when they rejected Jesus and the apostles because they were Jews, they were rejecting the people that drew the line in the first place and who had placed them on the outside. Suddenly, when we draw lines, we are not identifying our enemies but instead revealing ourselves as the enemy.
And now come the “but” bombs. “But, but, but”…carpeting these teachings like Laos to protect ourselves from the threat. Here is one thing I know: I could write a multi-volume book trying to address every “but.” Yet, the transformative power of this message and way of Jesus is not in found in my words or in my arguments. The power is found when you drop your missile defenses and let it hit you squarely in the heart.
How? By admitting it. You do not consider your allies to be everyone who is not explicitly against you. No, there are lots of people and groups that cause your anger to flare and who evoke an expression of disdain on your face just by the sight of them. You see them as ugly. And lines? You have drawn them straight and thick clearly identifying yourself as the enemy of those on the other side. Your criteria for who is in and out is much more complex than simply welcoming a child at the compelling of Jesus. And loving enemies? You can barely like someone who is remarkably different from you or just weird.
“You do know what spirit you are of,” he said. He is still right.
1 Mark 3:17
2 Luke 9:51-56 Most translations read that “he rebuked them.” Some manuscripts include the details of this rebuke “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of.”
3 Luke 9:46-50
4 Matthew 5:43-48