Luke 9:51-62 CEB
To say the Samaritans and the Jews didn't get along is like saying Elmer Fudd and Buggs Bunny were BFF. These two groups had a history that went back to King David. Call it a power play. David moved the temple from where the Samaritans were in the North and built it in Jerusalem, in Judah, to the South. Strike One. Then years later came the Babylonian Exile. It was those well to do, those who lived in the North, the 'Samaritans', who were exiled to Babylon. Meanwhile poor Southern Judah remained. They had years in Israel by themselves and they began cultivating the land left behind. Eventually the Babylonian King gave those in exile the ability to return home, and they returned home to see their land being used and lived in by the Judeans. Strike Two. When the Northern remnant was invited back to their home they did not come alone. Others came too with Pagan beliefs. The years away had made the tribes of the North, a mixed group with mixed beliefs. With the Temple moved, the South 'invading' the North, and the North no longer as 'pure' as it used to be: Strike Three. You're Out. These two groups might have lived in the same country but that didn't mean they had to relate with one another.
Enter Jesus. When I first read this scripture my brain began to hurt. It is one of those times Jesus just doesn't seem to be acting like Jesus. He seems to be talking in riddles. One asks to follow him and he turns the invitation over to someone completely different. We never find out why he turned the invitation to someone else. We also never find out what Jesus said sternly, or rebuked to the Disciples with when they suggest raining down fire on the Samaritans. There are been those who have added to scripture, in an attempt to put those words in Jesus' mouth, but no real answers.
Well, that was what I was interested in. So I guess I have nothing else to say. Thanks for reading along with me, I will be back next week... Perhaps, there is something. There was a sentence, when literally translated from the Greek turned my head and had me digging through books to learn more. "[H]e was determined to go to Jerusalem." Literally it is more like, "He hardened his face to go to Jerusalem." Now, this was just the way the people said 'determined to go,' but the language itself opened up my imagination and brought me back to another biblical story.
Exodus 7. The former Prince of Egypt, Moses, had been called to free God's people. In the process of trying to convince Pharaoh to let the people go, God hardens Pharaoh's heart. Walter Brueggemann, in the New Interpreter's Bible, suggests what this hardening is all about.
The fact that Yehweh both hardens and does signs appears to be simply a literary device for intensification, but there is a quality of political realism in the escalation. That is, action for liberation leads to greater repression, and greater repression produces more intense resolve for liberation. In that process, it is never known who will be first to lose nerve. Moreover, the very sign itself becomes the means whereby the hardening is accomplished, as the very gesture toward liberation is what evokes more repression- i.e. hardening.
Most of us know who eventually loses his nerve in the Exodus story. Pharaoh let's the Israelites go. Forty years later they settle in the Promised Land. Years following they finally have a begotten King, David. David moves the temple. Strike One, Strike Two, Strike Three, and we are back to Jesus.
Now the Gospel writer of Luke was a researcher. He wanted to get the story right for Theophilus. That being said, I do not believe he was trying to create a connection between Pharaoh and Jesus. I think he was just using a phrase of the day. I am drawing the connection for the sake of understanding Jesus better. It is through Jesus' actions I see we have two choices: we can either harden our face, or harden our heart.
As we already know the Samaritans and the Judeans didn't get along. By the time of Jesus, Samaritans wouldn't even allow visitors a place to stay if they were headed to Jerusalem. Many who travelled just decided to take the long way around and avoid the villages altogether. The Jewish sentiment toward Samaritans were not that different. There was a clear divide between the two groups.
Jesus' call to the world was to the world. The whole world. Everyone. Every being. Not just to the Jews. Not just to the Samaritans. Not just to the Gentiles. Not just to the sinners. Not just to the saints. Not just to the oppressed. Not just to the oppressors. Every single one. That kind of call doesn't allow for choosing sides. Yet, in this scripture that is exactly what Jesus is asked to do. There's the Samaritan's who do not want to give Jesus a place to stay when they discover he is heading to Jerusalem. Jesus could denounce Jerusalem and her people to be welcomed in the village. Instead they continue on to another village. Then there's the Disciples who suggest raining down fire as Elijah did through God to the Samaritans of old. Jesus, in turn, rebuked or spoke sternly to them. Two sides. Choosing either side would solidify a purpose. A people to help. But, Jesus wasn't there to be put on a team. Jesus was for everyone. Jesus wanted to heal the people, not break them further apart. Therefore, he didn't choose the Samaritans or Jerusalem for "Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head." By not choosing he was ostracized by both groups. He hardened his face, his resolve; not his heart. To amend Brueggemann's words slightly to connect it to today's scripture: Action for restoration and true relationship leads to greater disconnect, and greater disconnection produces more intense resolve for restoration.
This is why Christianity is not comfortable. We are called to harden our face, our resolve; not our heart. Our job is to bring God's love to everybody, not just the select group we feel comfortable connecting with. There is no such thing as a safe Christianity. If there was, Jesus would have been the poster child for it, and never would have died on a cross for the failures and disconnect of everyone else. It comes down to fixing our broken and torn up body of Christ. Yes, it is easier to pick a broken remnant and settle, but that was not our call. Our call is to soften our hearts and harden our resolve. It will lead us down roads where we don't quite fit with any one group. It will ostracize us on one side and make us speak up in opposition for our brothers and sisters on the other. To fully and completely follow Christ means there is no place where we can be comfortable, or lie our head. It sends us to the wilderness because the comfortable is simply a false Eden.
The reason I share this with you is this: Every time we step up to injustice we have a choice whether we are going to harden our resolve or harden our hearts. Every time we see broken relationship in the form of party lines, theirs verses ours, or however it looks we have a choice to not buy into it with a hardened resolve or to choose a side with a hardened heart. Because choosing a side always cuts a group out. We have a choice. One choice is easier than another. So, which one are you going to choose? I pray as you accept your call, you harden your resolve.