As we have seen over the last few days, Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, where crucfixion, death, and resurrection awaited Him. Because of the distance, he planned to break up the walking journey by spending the night in one of the nearby villages. He sent messengers to arrange for accommodations in the Samaritan village, but when they heard that He was heading toward Jerusalem, they refused Him because of their serious dispute with the Jews over the place of worship.
James and John were not happy about the refusal of accommodations. (Of course, if there were no accommodations for Jesus, there were none for the disciples, either.) These two "Sons of Thunder" wanted to retaliate, and to strike "while the iron was hot". Their suggestion was that they command fire down from heaven to consume the village. When we look at this verse, our first thought is usually, "What?? What in the world are they thinking?" It appears that they were imagining themselves as the prophet Elijah, who commanded fire down from heaven and destroyed two groups of soldiers.
Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (2 Kings 1:10 NASB)
There was a difference in the two circumstances, although perhaps the two disciples felt that they were defending God's honor. In Elijah's case, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who tried to kill Elijah for years and who were both extremely wicked and had led the nation of Israel into idolatry, had died. Their son, Ahaziah, ascended to the throne. Scripture tells us that Ahaziah was worse that Ahab, Jezebel, and Jeroboam. In a way, he was triple-wickedness and was leading Israel into even more evil than his father. He had severe injuries when he fell through a lattice and wanted to know if he would survive. Although Elijah, well known as a prophet and man of God, was available for consultation, the king sent messengers to inquire of an idol.
God sent Elijah to meet the messengers and tell them that the king would die. When they returned, he sent a captain with fifty soldiers to Elijah. Ahaziah was not planning to hold a religious pow wow with the prophet. There was killing on his mind. When the first band of soldiers arrived, intent on arresting Elijah, he called down fire from heaven and they were all consumed. A second group of soldiers was sent, and Elijah did the same thing again. Fire from heaven consumed them. When a third group came, the captain begged for mercy and promised to protect Elijah, who accompanied him to the king.
Although his method was dramatic and drastic, Elijah had defended himself from an attack by a band of soldiers bent on his destruction. He had spent years in hiding when Ahab and Jezebel sought to assassinate him. All the murderous attacks were for no other reason than a dislike of the truth Elijah spoke. He had no illusions about the reason Ahaziah had sent soldiers for him. He knew it was another plot against his life.
The Samaritans had rejected Jesus and inconvenienced Him, ultimately depriving themselves of their Messiah. They were not trying to assassinate Him. Why, then, did James and John want to call down fire on them? We will not know for certain this side of heaven, but it was an extreme response to a refusal of lodging.
What is odd is that these two men had been with Jesus throughout His ministry. They had heard Him teaching about turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you. How could they reconcile their impetuous desire for retaliation and destruction with the truth Jesus had taught them? They could not, and they did not try. They, like many of us, spoke first and, if they thought at all, it was later.
Perhaps you never do this, but sometimes I have a strong reaction to a perceived slight. I haven't asked to rain down fire on someone, but my first reaction has not always been loving and forgiving. What about you?
If James and John had stopped to consider what rejecting Jesus meant for the Samaritan village, perhaps they would have wept with grief rather than boil with anger. When we look at circumstances, rejection, and slights from others with the perspective of Jesus, they tend to look quite different, don't they? Our response should be in line with His response, as well. How did Jesus respond? Pray. Forgive. Love.
I saw a needlework piece recently with these words:
"When others hate, oppose, ignore,
Help me, dear Lord, to love them more.
Those are good words for us when responding to the slights and rejections of others. Let's act like Jesus would act. Pray, forgive, love. No matter what.