One of our Eucharistic prayers begins like this: “We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son.”
In those few words we have a recounting of our whole salvation history – the beauty of the Creation itself, the irrevocable Covenant with Israel, the challenging voice of Israel’s Prophets, and – finally – the incarnation of all of that in Jesus of Nazareth! Today’s Lessons describe the centrality of the people of Israel in all of this – their self-confidence and trust in their relationship with God which they have always had, at their best.
The prophet Zechariah says, “Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts…In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:20, 23)
The Psalmist rejoices in this historic role of his people: “…the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of our God…Of Zion it shall be said, ‘Everyone was born in her…The Lord will record as he enrolls the peoples, These also were born there!’” (Psalm 87) And here we have a hint of the universal role of Israel – this covenantal relationship with God is not only for the Jews, but through the Jews (potentially) to everyone!
Jesus understood that clearly. In fact, it was central to his entire message about the kingdom of God. In today’s Gospel, he was once again prepared to visit the hated Samaritans and to spend time with them, but they would not “receive him because” the text says,“his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:53-54). Now, he was not actually “on the way” to Jerusalem physically at this point, so this text must mean something else.
I think it means that he was bound and determined to speak his message in Jerusalem. He had come to believe that the course of his life and his core message of the kingdom had to be proclaimed in Jerusalem itself, in the heart of the temple, in the symbolic center of Jewish life. Not because he was trying to “convert the Jews” to some new religion. But because, from the heart of their faith, would come salvation for the whole world!
The disciples in this story react in a very human way to their Master’s rejection. They want to punish the Samaritans. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Seems a bit of an overreaction to me, but then it’s basically what the prophet Elijah is said to have done to the prophets of Baal!). Not exactly Jesus’ style though and he simply “turned and rebuked” the disciples for even having such a thought.
After all, why would he want to punish his adversaries when he had just finished preaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27). Besides…even Samaritans are among those Jesus called “good.” And – even though they (and we) often forget it – We “also were born there” — in Zion…in Jerusalem…for the great One in the midst of us is none other than the Holy One of Israel! (Isaiah 12:6)