True Strength Is Shown In Mercy, Not Judgment
Chan Gin Kai
Luke 9:51-56 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but 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 to destroy them?” (Luke 9:51-54)
Jesus was steadfast in his goal to get to Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, killed, and resurrected to heaven. He knew the pain set before him, but there was no other way we could be saved. And he knew the glory that would follow too. He decided to go to Jerusalem through Samaria.
Jews travelling between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south would rather take a longer six-day journey along the Jordan River, than a shorter, more direct route through Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans certainly didn’t like each other.
The Samaritans were descended from Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. When the Assyrians conquered northern Israel in 721BC, many of the survivors were deported to foreign lands and assimilated into the native populations. Assyrians, with their own religion and culture, were also brought into Israel to settle, with the purpose of diminishing the Israelite identity. Over time, the foreigners and Israelites intermarried and their beliefs and customs were mixed together.
Instead of worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. They have their own Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which differs in places from the Hebrew Pentateuch. They also do not accept the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures (for example, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and more).
Instead of avoiding Samaria like most Jews would, Jesus decided to go through Samaria. I believe it was as much because of his determination to get to Jerusalem quickly, as it was to reach out to the Samaritans. Jesus sent his disciples ahead to prepare the way. But when the Samaritans heard that he was heading for Jerusalem, they did not welcome him.
Angered by the Samaritans’ rude rejection, James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The brothers were wrong on so many counts.
Firstly, James and John imagined they have the power to call down fire from heaven when they even struggled with casting out a demon earlier. Very often, it is those who only have a little power that are most likely to abuse it. All it takes is a little authority, riches, recognition or knowledge for a person to get puffed up and start fantasising they have more. They start posturing and behaving as though they’re better than others, and they’re deceived by their own illusions. They get all self-righteous and judgemental on the ‘little people’. Have we behaved like that before?
Secondly, the fact that James and John bothered asking Jesus was because they thought he was like them. Obviously, Jesus was not like them. But it is not surprising that those who aren’t aware of their weaknesses often think others share the same traits. Jesus nicknamed the two brothers Boanerges (Mark 3:17), which means ‘sons of thunder’, for their fiery temper. It is encouraging to know that John is now remembered as the ‘apostle of love’. Much of what John writes in his gospel, his epistles and Revelation, is about love. When John saw his sin, he repented and learnt to love like Jesus.
Finally, Jesus showed them that true strength is shown in mercy. The Samaritans were of course wrong to reject Jesus. But that does not mean they deserved to have fire from heaven rain down on them. James and John showed righteous indignation, but in a wrong way. As Christians, we are prone to the same mistakes. We’ve learnt from the Bible how to distinguish right from wrong and become much more aware of sin. We’ve learnt the need to show righteous indignation at sin, but like James and John, our anger can be misplaced.
Right is NOT might. Just because we’re correct does not mean we can start behaving in a prideful way to those that are wrong. Just because we have the truth or logic or knowledge behind us does not mean we can shake our head and adopt the ‘I-know-better-than-you’ posture.
But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. (Luke 9:55-56)
Instead of rebuking the Samaritans, Jesus rebuked James and John. He was more concerned about how they handled the power they have and the truth they’ve got. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We have the power to influence and lead people to God. We’ve got the truth on our side. How do we handle what we have? Do we become self-righteous and judgmental?
True strength is shown in mercy and love, not judgment.
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".