4th Sunday after New Sunday (5th Sunday after Easter)
by the Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel
Gospel Reading: Luke 9:51-56
My brothers and sisters, make no mistake about it. There is no pain like the pain of rejection. There is no pain like the pain of offering your heart in sincerity to someone only to have your heart returned back to you broken and abandoned by the indifference or the disinterest or the disloyalty of the person in whom you have invested your affections. There is no pain like the pain of working hard to prove yourself capable and qualified to do a job only to discover that your capabilities have been surpassed by someone else and your qualifications have not been accepted. Rejection not only hurts. Rejection often harms and hinders us from trusting again, believing again, and sometimes even trying again. Most of us have had to deal with rejection at some time and in some way, but not many of us have dealt with rejection wisely and successfully.
Maybe the reason why our lives and our loves are often stifled and stymied by our fear of rejection is because we have not paid close enough attention to how Jesus Christ himself handled the pain of rejection in his own life. Contrary to what many may believe, the life of Jesus was not just filled with benefits and bountiful blessings because of his faithfulness. The life of Jesus was also colored by ostracism and rejection in spite of his faithfulness. According to Luke chapter 9, the rejection of Jesus comes about precisely because of Jesus' determination to fulfill his destiny. And somewhere in between our determination and our destiny there awaits the prospect of rejection for all of us. The destiny of Jesus had already been appointed and ordained by God. The crucifixion at Calvary and the resurrection on the third day were already a part of the divine design for Jesus' life. But in order to reach his divine destination and achieve his divine purpose, Jesus had to utilize his own determination. He had a destiny that was foreordained, but he also had a determination to reach his destiny and to arrive at his destination. Divine destiny does not preclude, prevent, or lessen the need for human determination. God may prepare and ordain a place and a purpose for us, but we still must make the effort, exercise the will, and do the work necessary to accomplish our divine aim and to fulfill our divine destinies.
Jesus would not be dissuaded from his divine purpose. Jesus had been in his home region of Galilee, located in northern Palestine, present-day Israel, when he determined to fulfill his divine destiny in Jerusalem, located in the southern portion of Palestine called Judea. Right in between the Jews who lived in northern Galilee and southern Judea, there was a region called Samaria, populated by people who despised the Jews. The Samaritans were a hybrid group, a mixed race of people that had settled in Palestine while many of the Jews were in exile and had inter-married with the native Canaanites. Adding to the bitter divide between the Jews and the Samaritans was the fact that the Samaritans had formulated their own religion, which was a mixture of Judaism and various other cultic theologies. The antagonism and rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans were so deep that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans-did not like them, did not trust them, would not eat with them, refused to touch anything that a Samaritan had touched. The breach between the Samaritans and the Jews was so acute that the Jews in the north would take a circuitous route east of the Jordan River in order to get to Jerusalem, causing them to travel miles out of their way in their efforts to avoid their rivals in Samaria.
Jesus was in Galilee, but he was determined to get to Jerusalem, and instead of taking the long way around to avoid the Samaritans, Jesus decided to take the direct route straight through Samaria. Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him into a Samaritan village in order to secure lodging and food, probably for an overnight rest stop. However, verse 53 tells us that the Samaritans did not receive him because his face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. They did not receive him because they could see that Jesus was a Jew, and the Samaritans resented the Jews who passed through their territory on their way to Jerusalem. The village people rejected Jesus. Exactly how they rejected Jesus we do not know. Maybe they were rude to Jesus. Maybe they cursed and sneered at Jesus. Maybe they hung placards outside their doors that said, "The Only Good Jew is a Dead Jew." We do not know just how they insulted Jesus. We do know that they denied him and his company their presence in the village.
When James and John, two of Jesus' closest disciples, saw the way that Jesus was treated, they became incensed and enraged. These two sons of thunder wanted to strike out against the Samaritans for their blatant disregard and utter disrespect of Jesus. They turned to Jesus in a rage and said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and burn up the village and all the people in it like Elijah did?" They looked at Jesus, expecting Jesus to give the nod to their sanctimonious assessment and let the judgment of God upon the unjust begin. But instead of rebuking those whom the disciples thought were the enemies of Jesus, Jesus turned around and rebuked his own disciples. Jesus said to them; and Jesus is saying to us, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of." The disciples had the right religion, but they were operating with the wrong spirit, and it is always a dangerous thing to try to read and interpret and apply the Word of God with the wrong spirit. James and John attempted to justify their intent to destroy the Samaritans by appealing to what they had found in the Bible. In the first chapter of II Kings, James and John had read the story of how the prophet Elijah had called down fire from heaven to consume those who questioned the authority of God. They based their request to annihilate the Samaritans on the basis of their understanding of the Bible.
Jesus had to correct and to rebuke them, because they made the same mistake back then that many Bible believers make today. They attempted to make an uncritical, superficial, literal application of the Word of God without carefully and prayerfully discerning the Spirit of God. Jesus said to them, "You do not know what spirit you are of."
o Because the Word of God without the Spirit of God is dangerous and deadly.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God gave religious sanction to slavery in America for almost one hundred years.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God has caused women down through the decades to be regarded as mere appendages and properties of men.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God provides moral justification for those who want to slash spending for vital social services in order to provide unlimited funding for military buildup and righteous retaliation against the supposed enemies of our nation.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God has enlisted many Christians in a crusade against Muslims.
o The Word of God without the Spirit of God is giving religious sanction to the denial of civil rights of many people based upon their sexual orientation.
We do have, as the children of God, the right Word, but many times we read and interpret the right word with the wrong spirit. We have forgotten that the Bible is not our God; the Bible is our guide to God. The ultimate aim of the Bible is not to provide us with the biblical mandate or a moral justification to destroy one another. The ultimate aim of the Bible is to guide each of us into a loving relationship with God and into loving relationships with one another.
o God is not the contextual law of the Bible; God is love.
o God is not the wrath of Elijah or any of the other prophets. God is love.
o God is not the religious pride of the Israelites. God is love.
o God is not the limited understanding and expressions of any of the biblical writers. God is everlasting, transcendent love.
o God is not just Word. God is Word made flesh.
Jesus said, "I did not come to destroy lives. I came to save lives. I did not come to destroy. I came to deliver. I did not come to take life. I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly."
And then Jesus did an amazing thing in regard to those who had rejected him. Jesus did not strike back in vengeance. He did not argue with those who refused him. He did not will the destruction of his detractors in the Samaritan village. Jesus did an amazing thing in regard to those who had rejected him. Jesus did nothing. Jesus did nothing. But in the nothing of Jesus, there's a whole lot of something. Because when we're being rejected in life, it takes more strength to hold our peace than it takes to strike back in anger and in vengeance. Jesus did nothing in retaliation to those who had rejected him.
Why? Because, number one, Jesus understood the value of tolerance. Jesus understood that in this world everybody is not going to conform to the same belief. Everybody is not going to follow the same path. Everybody is not going to follow the same revelation no matter how true it is, and only those who are weak and insecure in themselves try to force others to believe what they believe, live the way they live, and think the way they think. Lack of tolerance for others and lack of respect for those who do not subscribe to a particular mindset or world view are signs of weakness in any individual in any church or in any society. Only people who are confident and secure enough in themselves to be who they are can allow others to be who they are without retaliation and without resentment. Jesus was so secure and so confident in himself that he could tolerate and still love those who rejected him.
Secondly, Jesus did nothing because Jesus was able to move beyond his own hurt in being rejected to deal with the hurt of those who had rejected him. People who live their lives rejecting other people are people who are deeply damaged themselves. The Samaritans rejected Jesus out of their own ignorance and fear. Ignorance and fear continue to provide the fuel that feeds prejudice and bigotry today. The Samaritans did not know anything about Jesus. They only thought they knew Jesus because they had identified Jesus as a Jew, and so they categorized and prejudged Jesus. They evaluated Jesus by his association with other Jews. They assumed that Jesus had the same contempt for them that other Jews had for them. And so they rejected Jesus out of ignorance of who Jesus really was and out of fear of the group to which he associated.
You and I have rejected others and have been rejected by others for the same reasons, but before we reject anyone because of the group to which he or she may belong, why not give every person a chance to demonstrate the content of his or her character apart from the assumed identity of his or her group? In doing so, we might discover that all white people are not racists, all black people are not lazy, all black men are not irresponsible, all black women are not welfare queens, all black students are not intellectually challenged, all liberals are not loose, all conservatives are not callous, all gay people are not perverts, all white Southerners are not rednecks, all capitalists are not greedy, all socialists are not communists, all Muslims are not terrorists, all Americans are not arrogant, all Israelis are not Zionists, all people who are pro-choice are not pro-abortion, and all church people are not hypocrites.
If only the Samaritans in this village had given Jesus a chance to be evaluated according to the merits of his own character, if only they had given Jesus a chance to reveal his compassion, share his love, and offer his peace to the village, but, instead, this village summarily rejected Jesus. And in response to his rejection, on the one hand, Jesus did nothing; but on the other hand, Jesus did everything. Because the Bible says in verse 56 that Jesus and his disciples just went to another village and then went on to Jerusalem and to Calvary by way of another route. Even in the face of his rejection, Jesus finds another way to offer his life for his detractors.
May God allow us to find in our rejection creative ways to serve even those who despise us.
Will you join me now in prayer?
Gracious God, as all of us face rejection in our walks with you, helps us to see in our rejection the opportunity to find creative ways to love, to serve, and to give ourselves in humility and in faithfulness, even to those who despitefully use us. This is your servant's prayer. In the name of the Christ we pray. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel is pastor of Victory for the World Church (United Church of Christ) in Stone Mountain, GA.
copyright © by The Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel. All rights reserved.
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