Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Moving On

The people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (Luke 9.53-56)

Transitional Passages

From time to time we come upon transitional passages in the Gospels—brief accounts of going from here to there, with something that seems relatively minor happening along the way. We tend to scoot by these to get to the good stuff, and some of them feel so incidental we may wonder why they’re included at all. Every now and then, though, what takes place borders on monumental, and if we glance over these quick bits we miss why the writers considered them essential. Luke 9.51-56 is an excellent case in point.

Peter, James and John have just witnessed Christ’s transfiguration, the event that initiates the Passover journey to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be tried, executed, and resurrected. The magnitude of the disciples’ experience instills in them a sense of authority unlike anything they’ve known. For Peter, it confirms his confession that Jesus is The Christ. For James and John, whom Jesus calls “the sons of thunder,” it dazzles them with power. They go overboard in holy swagger. First, John hastens to inform Jesus they found a man driving out demons in Christ’s name. “We tried to stop him,” he tells the Lord, “because he is not one of us.” (Luke 9.49) Jesus corrects John’s impetuosity. “Don’t stop him,” He says. “For whoever is not against you is for you.” (v50) It’s pretty much a “mind your own business” scolding. But the Thunder Boys can’t help themselves. Next, Jesus sends messengers ahead to a Samaritan village that He and the disciples will pass through en route to Jerusalem. He intends to rest there. But the Samaritans aren’t eager to accommodate a Jewish prophet and entourage—which makes sense, since they're not welcome in Jerusalem at Passover. So here come the Thunder Boys, feisty as ever, asking, “Should we call down fire from heaven and destroy them?” As if Jesus would countenance such a thing. As if they could actually do it. They’re in a transitional passage of a different kind without knowing it—the steep pass we all must climb to discover true power is evidenced by self-containment and tolerance.

Saving Lives

Once again, Jesus scolds them. Most manuscripts simply note, “Jesus turned and rebuked them.” But some texts also quote Christ directly, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (v55) The expanded text stresses nothing—including religious rejection—entitles us to wish destruction on anyone. That’s an archaic mentality, based on Old Testament yarns about God wiping out Israel’s adversaries. It’s completely out of keeping with Christ’s spirit and message. And any time we sink to the level of even imagining vengeance, like James and John, we betray our ignorance. We are not born of a spirit of destruction, but one of life and love. The only fire we should be concerned with is the flame burning inside us, the fervor that burns up our impure desires and lights the way to mercy and acceptance. If we truly follow Christ, our main impetus is saving lives, not destroying them.

Punishment is none of our concern. Contemplating ill that might befall someone who harms or disrespects us isn’t worthy of us. Yet it’s also often the case that those who wish us no good will not receive us. How then do we go about “saving them?” This passage answers that question with such simplicity we may be dumbfounded. After Jesus rebukes the Sons of Thunder, the story ends: “And they went to another village.” (v56) This sheds enormous light on what Jesus means by “saving lives.” We tend to think of it in the most grandiose terms—i.e., changing lives. We fret about not being heard or welcomed into a place where we can show those who reject us a better way. We presume if we were there to lead them, they would change. This won’t always be so. Some people have no desire to change. What we tell or show them won’t be anything they’ve not heard or seen. In this context, saving lives means sparing them—praying for their good, their health, and their success despite the harm they intend to do to us. This aligns with Christ’s teaching in Luke 6.27-28: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Often, saving lives is more about changing us than them.

The Journey’s Beauty

When Jesus realizes He isn’t welcome in the Samaritan village, He moves on. There’s no recrimination toward the villagers. In fact, there’s no mention of them at all. More important things lay ahead. James and John don’t know this is Christ’s last journey to Jerusalem. They want to show off their newfound sense of power and righteousness. Jesus realizes time is of the essence. There are villages ahead that want Him, people who need Him, and believers waiting to minister to Him. Fighting prejudicial resistance will mar the journey’s beauty.

Sometimes moving on is our only option. We have to accept that. We also have to realize others don’t define our value and worthiness. No one needs to be brought low so we can be lifted. Indeed, fantasies of vengeance and retribution reduce us. They pull us down to a level that’s beneath Christ. Instead, we lower ourselves by letting go and moving on. James 4.10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Earlier in Luke 9, Jesus teaches us, “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” (v5) Move on. The fact that we’re not around speaks for itself. We don’t have time to linger over destructive thoughts. There are places that want us, people who need us, and others waiting to minister to us. Our journey is too beautiful and sacred to be marred by rejection.

We don’t have time to stick around where we’re not wanted. There are better things ahead. Praying for adversaries’ destruction only mars the beauty of our journey.


Border Explorer said...

Tim, I love...love...love this message. I sometimes attempt to discuss issues on the internet with people who think differently from me, but when I get negativity or disrespect back, then it is simply time to move on. Don't want to waste time and energy on negativity. Too many important and positive things to do!

Tim said...

Thanks, Billie! Leaving disagreeable people to their own arts is the best thing possible. It took me a while to figure that out. But once I did, the freedom of peace I found in places of respect and care made me promise myself never to go back.

It's always a joy to hear from, dear friend. Have a marvelous week!


TomCat said...

Waves at Billie

Tim, what an excellent message! If only the religious right would learn that faith is a journey, not a medicine to be crammed down the throat of another.

Tim said...

Thanks, Tom. I think there's plenty of guilt to go around when it comes to getting stuck trying to change people. If we all kept moving in the pursuit of Christ's ideals and concern for one another, we wouldn't have time for destructive behavior. Ah, but that would be Heaven, and we'd have nothing to look forward to! ;-)

Always a pleasure to hear from you, and always grateful for your insights.


claire said...

Holy swagger...
Saving lives means sparing lives...

I like the idea of blessing those don't welcome me as I move on...

An older friend of mine talks of prayer as 'moving energy.' We all need to move energy, to pray for goodness, to ground our strength in goodness...

Thank you, Tim.


genevieve said...

Tim, we're like the farmer. We plant the seed but God is the one who determines how it will sprout. How many seeds were planted and yielded many crops? We may not know in this life but in eternity, we will.

Sabrenia Wolfe Sanders said...

Loved this message. This is a hard one sometimes. That's when I have to turn my attitude and the situation over to God. He never fails. I desire His heart, love and compassion.

Love you,

Tim said...

Claire, "moving energy" -- how terrific. I also find prayer often energizes me to move. Sometimes I settle in less than suitable places and then, when things don't improve and I really start praying about it, the answer comes: "Move on!" Thanks for sharing that; it really brings the post into sharper focus.

Genevieve, you're so right. We sow good seed wherever we go, and even if we're rejected and move on, the seed can grow. Heaven will be full of surprises!

Sabrenia, I feel you. Sometimes I think we're reluctant to move on because we're not sure we've done the work. Yet I often find that anyone who doesn't want me around will do his/her best to see I'm not. And that's when we have to turn things over to God. He wants us to be available to Him, whether for His use or for others to bless us. Moving on is more about looking ahead than anything.

Thank all of you for chiming in. You all bless me richly!

Peace, joy, and much love,

Jan said...

What a good message. So often it boils down to "surrender" or letting go. It seems like this prayer always fits: "Bless _________, change me."

Tim said...

Jan, what a perfect prayer for these situations. Part of our struggles about letting go centers on our inability to think we can "do without" this person or that thing. We do need to change to reawaken to the truth: we lean on God as our sure foundation. He will provide what we need as travel on.

Thanks so much for this. It summarizes things beautifully!


Philomena Ewing said...

Hi Tim,
You have given us all a reat treat with this post.
I know it really hurts me when people reject me with vitriol and if we have any integrity we tend always to want to try reconciliation- this is the core of our faith. I think in close intimate relationships it is different but in other situations we have to give it up !!
But it takes a lot of time to process our hurt especially if it results from anger thrown at us from a place somewhere way out from left field !!
What your post does so well is spell out that we can never restore either ourselves or our enemy on our own, only through handing it over to God. It is exquisitively painful to receive the kind of treatment you describe but I agree with you that to stand and argue is futile.
Thanks for this !! You are a warrior !!

Philomena Ewing said...

Hi Tim,
Phil here from Blue Eyed Ennis at

I posted comments here yesterday but have checked a couple of times. I did fill in the identity box too so I'm not sure what happened. Never mind. I will catch up on your next post. Hope you are OK.

Tim said...

Phil, I apologize for the delayed response to your comments. I was away last evening for our church's Pride Service and then got wrapped up in Chicago Blackhawk's fever. (You may not know this on the other side of the Pond. But our team won its first championship in 49 years. I'm not an ice hockey fan at all, but civic pride, you know...) And then today just started with a bang and kept going! So I'm just getting to the blog business.

Your observations are so apt. I think it is harder for us when rejection comes out of nowhere from people who have very little emotional investment in our lives. Differences between family and companions are inevitable. Either we work them out or learn to accept them simply so we can live together.

But when people we're not intimately acquainted with brush us off, the wound is quick and often very bloody. Part of wants to hang around just to ascertain where such vitriol comes from. "What did I do wrong?" Or, to her or him or them?

Years ago as a psychology student I learned about a phenomenon known as "symptom mirroring." People project their fears, hatred, and weaknesses onto others without just cause. I think this happens more often than we realize, especially in cases like those you cite. It's not really about us, no more than the Samaritans not wanting to accommodate Jesus was really about Him. This sort of rejection is meant to hurt us, but only as surrogates for displays of self-hatred and insecurity.

I guess where I"m going with this is: we can't help getting caught in occasional crossfire when people essentially fire on themselves. But we can't, and shouldn't, allow our wounds to turn us into sitting ducks for further abuse. Our mental, physical, and spiritual health is our responsibility. God is the Healer. He knows how to treat those who won't respond to our care.

Thanks, Phil, for this. It adds a great deal to the thought. (And sorry again for my delay.)


TomCat said...

Thanks, Tim.