Vindicating Jesus?

The story is told in Luke 9:52-56 of Jesus and his disciples heading toward Jerusalem but seeking to stay in a Samaritan village along the way. Jesus was, by this time, a “rock star” in those parts of the world—a bona fide celebrity with whom people loved to rub shoulders. His ministry was firmly established, and word of his fantastic signs and miracles was widespread. While his teaching provoked the religious people of his day, even some of them secretly followed him, and others, especially the poor and sick and even the loose-living folks who would never set foot in a church, clamored to be near him, if only to touch his robe. Maybe it is not all that different than how we act around celebrities.

Fighting Prejudice with Dignity and Respect

Although Jesus’ fellow Jews despised the Samaritans, he went out of his way to buck that prejudice. Early in his ministry, he refused to avoid Samaria on a trip but passed directly through, striking up a conversation and having a drink of water with a Samaritan woman.  His interaction with her was so winsome and unexpected that she and her neighbors asked Jesus to stay over for a few days and teach them some more (John 4:16-40).

And unlike other rabbis, Jesus did not condemn Samaritans or make them the punchline of a joke; rather, he portrayed them with dignity and respect.  After all, in his story about a man beaten and robbed on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, it was not the Jewish priest or lay minister who understood how to be a good neighbor to their wounded countryman, it was only the “good” Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). And when Jesus healed ten lepers, most of whom were undoubtedly fellow Jews, only one Samaritan had the good manners to come back and say thanks (Luke 17:11-19).

So it is surprising that this Celebrity who had shown kindness to the Samaritans would be rejected when he asked to stay again in one of their villages on his way to Jerusalem.  It infuriated Jesus’ disciples:

But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9:52-56) [Some manuscripts add that Jesus also said “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”][1]

In their reaction to rejection, the disciples were essentially saying “Let us blast these people, Jesus, and make them acknowledge who you are.”  We may try to sugar coat it, but sometimes we Christians are not much different than the disciples, acting as if Christ and his kingdom need a sensational or irresistible vindication, if not with vociferous, “in-your-face” evangelism and Bible thumping, then perhaps through legislation or judicial decision.

But Jesus did not want or need his first disciples to vindicate him then, and he does not want or need us to vindicate him now. That is not his spirit, he says. And if we are really his followers, then we will show his spirit by living the way he taught us to live.  At its essence, that entails loving other people by treating them the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 5:14). Live the life! Then, people will be much more likely to listen and get an accurate glimpse of Jesus when we talk about him.  And that would really be Good News.

[1] See, e.g., New American Standard Bible