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Rick Morley

fire from heaven

There are some moments in the ministry of Jesus where I’d love to have a picture. This weekend’s Gospel lesson is one of those moments.

Jesus is rebuffed from entering a Samaritan village, and two of his disciples (James and John) ask Jesus if he’d like for them to call down fire from heaven to consume them.

The look on Jesus’ face right there is what I want a picture of. I can just picture Jesus turning his head slowly, and giving them a “Really?… Really?!” look.

I mean is there anything in the entire ministry of Jesus that would lead you to think that Jesus would want a bunch of people burned alive? 

Nope.

But, there are two of his disciples, ready to make it happen.

<sigh>

What we see here is the age-old desire to protect God—as if what God needs is protection from anything. James and John wanted to protect Jesus’ honor from being besmirched, but Jesus doesn’t care about that.

When have you ever felt the need to protect God from someone else?

Historical notes:

The Samaritans are a group of Jews who didn’t get taken off to Babylon during the Babylonian captivity in the late 500’s BC. The Jews who WERE taken off to Babylon were jealous of them, and their ancestors were shunned. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans were hated and reviled. Samaritans developed their own religious rituals based on the Old Testament, and they practice those rituals to this day in modern Israel. There’s only a few hundred ethnic Samaritans left.

chains and shackles

For many times [the unclean spirit] had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.
Luke 8:29

Jesus got in a boat, travelled across the Sea of Galilee, and landed in gentile territory. As soon as he stepped out of the boat, he was greeted by a man, who wore no clothes, and who was chained and bound in the town cemetery.

Quite the welcoming committee, huh?

The man was afflicted with a horde of demons—which is bad enough, right? But, as if that wasn’t enough, the townspeople keep him chained up outside their village, where they bury their dead. Then Jesus frees the man from his affliction, and the people “were seized with great fear.”

I mean, couldn’t they be happy for him? Couldn’t they celebrate his freedom? This man had been so debilitated for so long, and now he could rejoin the full life of the community—and all they could conjure up was fear.

Were they frightened of Jesus? Or, were they frightened that the comfortable order of their lives had been upset? Had they gotten so used to the man being naked and bound in the graveyard that seeing him get better was more of a nuisance than a cause for joy?

This man lived bound up on the outskirts of town, filled to the brim with evil: but, was he the one who was truly bound? What keeps you bound, just out of comfort?

Interesting Bits

Where?

The guy with the demon was a “Geresene,” and there is a place in the Galilee region that was named “Gerasa.” The only problem is that Gerasa was thirty miles from the Sea of Galilee. That would have been a long run for the pigs to make it to the water! There’s another little settlement called “Gedara” which was right on the Sea and near Tiberias. We think that this was where Jesus had this interaction.

Gross

The guy was naked and chained up in the graveyard. Both of these things were considered offensive and unclean to ancient Jews. You just didn’t walk around in public without clothes on. And, gravestones were always whitewashed so that you didn’t end up touching one by mistake. When Luke’s first audience heard this story, their skin would have crawled.

Big Crowd

”Legion” is a military term, which refers to a unit of 4,000 to 6,000 Roman Soldiers. In this context, “Legion” is a name for the unclean spirit, but is also a reference to how many spirits were in the man.

 

you’re number one

“This is my son, my chosen, listen to him.”

These words boomed from the clouds as Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop. They show God beaming with pride at His boy, His child—Jesus. It’s the very embodiment of what a proud father sounds like.

Here’s the thing though: while these words are spoken OF JESUS and they tell us a little bit who JESUS is… these words ALSO give us an insight into the heart of God the Father.

God, Our Father, is sometimes found to be like the proud parent shouting at the top of their lungs while watching their child play soccer, play the violin, or compete in the spelling bee. It’s that almost embarrassing over-the-top glee that gets some parents in trouble with their progeny, but which only makes the parent be all the more embarrassing.

You know what I’m talking about?

And, because of this little insight into the heart and soul of God, we get a glimpse into how God feels not only about His-son-Jesus, but also… us. For we too are God’s sons and daughters.

And, if God is willing to be that-embarrassing-parent for Jesus, God is just as willing and able to be that-embarrassing-parent for us too.

God loves us. Hopefully we know that. Hopefully we feel that. But, God doesn’t just stop at loving us—God is the parent in the stands with the hoarse throat and the foam #1 finger shouting at the top of his lungs for us.

For you. Yes, you. Yes, even when you feel like a failure. Yes, even when you feel like you don’t deserve it. Yes, even when you don’t want it.

God is proud of you. To God, you are #1. Because that is just who our God is. And that is who you are to God.

love your enemy

Of all the teachings of Jesus, this is his one unique contribution to human religious thought. There were other ancient religious teachers who told their adherents to serve the poor, to love their neighbors, and to live virtuous lives.

But, no other ancient religious or philosophical teachers ever told people to love their enemies.

This is peak Jesus. And, it’s crazy.

It’s insane.

And, Jesus’ original followers would have thought it was insane too. I mean they had serious enemies. Enemies that were occupying their country at the time. When Jesus tells them to “love your enemies,” he was really telling them to “love the tax collector who is fleecing you,” “love the Roman soldiers who are beating you in the streets,” “love the religious leaders who are colluding with the Romans to keep you subjugated.”

This would not have gone over well.

It doesn’t even go over all that well today.

Now, what Jesus is saying here could be just simple appeasement. It could have been about going along to get along. It could be responding to your whipping with “Thank you sir, may I have another?”

But, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is actually saying. He’s NOT telling us to love what our enemy is DOING. He’s telling us to love them as people, as children of God, as brothers and sisters in God’s great family. Hating them doesn’t do anyone any good. But loving them might just change the entire equation. It might make them think about what they are doing. It will definitely preserve your own humanity.

And, it might just change the world.

Because if people actually took Jesus seriously here, that’s exactly what it would do.

I know, right?

Luke’s version of the beatitudes is strange. I mean who feels blessed when they are poor, when they are hungry, or when they are weeping? Who feels blessed when we are hated, reviled, and excluded?

It’s in those painful, wretched moments of our life that we usually feel about as far away from God as we could possibly be. When we are at our lowest is when we tend to entertain the thought that God has abandoned us – that we are alone in the universe – that God doesn’t really care about us.

But, Jesus says that that’s exactly when we are blessed.

Either Jesus doesn’t know what blessing is… or we don’t.

I’m betting it’s the later.

These proclamations of blessing are here to remind us that our darkest days are not the days when we are alone and forsaken. In fact, in some strange way, it may just be when we are in the most need may just be when we are nearest to the Presence of God.

Remember that Jesus himself was betrayed, arrested, beaten, ridiculed, and executed. Remember it was Jesus himself who cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus experienced horrific pain, AND he experienced the feeling of the abandonment of God.

Amazingly, he not only shared in our human pain and death, but he also shared in our experience of being alone and forsaken by God. Our experience now joins Jesus’ experience. When we suffer, Jesus is right there with us saying, “I know, right?” And when we say how alone we feel, Jesus says “I know, right?”

It’s in our very experience of abandonment that we find ourselves in Jesus’ company.