Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2013 St. Mary’s Church / St. John’s Church Evansville, Indiana 30 June 2013

The reading for the day were Galatians 5.1, 13-18 and  Luke 9.51-56

Did I just hear what I read?? Seriously. A particular Samaritan village did not welcome Jesus and his disciples, James and John, ask: “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Burn them up. Destroy them. Consume them?
These are the Disciples of Christ. But they make this horrific request. To kill other human beings. 

This gospel should disturb us. 

Jesus turned and rebuked his disciples for making such a request! His disciples had gotten so off track of the message of the kingdom of God that he had to rebuke them for wanting to kill some Samaritans simply because they were lacking in hospitality.

But why did the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus and his company? It may have been due to previous negative experiences with other Jewish pilgrims who passed through their village. Perhaps it was because James and John were not very kind to them. We do not know. But for whatever reason, Jesus and his band of followers were not welcome.

Interestingly enough, in all of the gospels, there are no Samaritans that call for Jesus’ death. Many Samaritans DID accept Jesus. Recall the Samaritan Woman? What of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan?

Yet the disciples in Luke’s gospel have become rather possessive of Jesus, possessive of the kingdom, and very judgmental in their view of who could be worthy of the kingdom of God or even share in the ministry of Christ.

Oh, we can you hear the pride, the self-importance, the arrogance; the elitism.  But the kingdom of God is not a country club for the spiritually or ethnically or nationally elite.

In our own day we are bombarded and consumed daily by those who seek justice for themselves against others. For others their call for justice is often a hidden desire for revenge. Others openly admit that they do not want justice, but revenge. Some even pray that God should destroy others.

But who are we to judge others as unworthy of God’s love?  Who are the Samaritans in our midst that we judge as unworthy of Christ’s love and our love?   

Oh, we may not say it that way, but our demeanor towards certain others speaks volumes.

What about the man who is hungering for love each week as he makes it up the steps of our church, but is often ignored because he is not one of the beautiful people? What about the chronically depressed…the unemployed or the underemployed… What of the teenagers or young adults or the aged who are just waiting to be asked to do something in the name of Christ?

How do we look at others? Or talk about others?  And though we may not ask the Lord to “nuke” others out of existence, how easily do we sometimes render others invisible?  Personae non gratae?

I’ve had people tell me that they feel invisible in many of our parishes – “people see right through me” they say. No one welcomed me to church. No one missed me when I stopped coming to Mass. No one called to check on us. But they did call when they wanted money. Real or imagined, these are genuine hurts.

Many people are consumed with great anxiety and distress. The hurting needing the salve of kindness, the sorrowful looking to be consoled, the doubtful looking for faith, the hungry craving for belonging, the unwelcome longing for an invite to dinner, those thirsting for companionship, the poor seeking comfort –
all of these we can likely find right here in our midst, in these very pews, today – they are not just “out there” in some nebulous mass of humanity.

We touch one another here in a unique way; and we have the opportunity to change other people’s lives for the better through our daily prayer and through our daily acts of charity.
So who are the Samaritans God is calling us to embrace?
You know “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is not just a nice Christian catchphrase!

Social justice must begin here before we go out there!
Any time then when we fail to recognize the dignity of each human person, we run the risk of being tempted to call down fire from heaven to consume them.

But we cannot live according to the flesh, as St. Paul reminds us. It’s not about our designer clothes, our social status, our shiny cars, sumptuous homes, or even our well-tanned flesh or sleek, slender, sexy well-toned bodies.

Have we become too comfortable, too consumed with ourselves?

We are called to live by the Spirit in freedom. And our freedom is for love. And it must begin here. In these pews. In these aisles. In the foyer. In the parish hall. And especially in the parking lot.
No one who recognizes his neighbor as a fellow member of the body of Christ – or even a potential member of the Body of Christ – would ever seek to harm another person. Instead we will only desire others’ welfare and holiness and health. We will not seek to back-bite or devour one another - not even our enemies.

The good news about James and John is that they who wanted fire to consume their enemies were eventually consumed with the mercy and love of Christ.

James (James 2.13) writes: “For since we are in the freedom of Christ, ‘Judgment is merciless to the one who has not shown mercy; for mercy triumphs over judgment!’”

St. John also wrote extensively: (1 John 3:16) “Let us love one another, for love is of God..” “Everyone who hates his neighbor is a murderer….” (1 john 4 .11) …”and If God so loved us, we also must love one another.

All of us have the freedom to love and forgive. And when we truly surrender to this freedom, and exercise this freedom, we will make it is easier for others to experience their freedom, blessedness and human dignity.

And then once we catch fire with Christ’s passion we won’t want to consume others with our prejudice; and we won’t have time to make excuses for delaying our response to Christ and our neighbor; but we will cast caution to the wind and freely take up our cross, allowing ourselves to be consumed in the fire of God’s love, burning bright, set free to love, to heal, and to secure justice for all the oppressed.

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