As we have seen there is quite a bit of background going on in the story of Jesus' rejection in Samaria. I now lets start putting the pieces together. Find a Bible, open up to Luke 9:51-56 and follow along as we go verse by verse through the text.
- This passage is a clear break in the overall narrative of Luke, which is why scholars use it to point to the travel narrative.1 When Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem a new theme is introduced which is repeated again and again until he reaches Jerusalem. The language of setting ones face may be related to Isaiah 50:72
- There is a time appointed. His decision is not arbitrary, rather he goes because of an event that was soon to happen.
- The event that is causally related to his movement is his being "taken up". We might think that this is an illusion to his Ascension. This would be a good piece of evidence for those who believe this passage has a Elijah motif behind it since Elijah also ascended into heaven. However there are some who note it could also mean his death if Luke had misunderstood an idiom from the Old Testament. This could also be an illusion to his exaltation.3 The passage could also be referring to a Divine time table.4
- Nolland believes this verse may have some roots in Ezekiel 21:7, a passage that describes a time set aside for God's Judgment. 5 Although even he has reservations on that interpretation.
- Main Idea: Jesus is going to Jerusalem which is key. There is a strong sense that God's purpose is in some way going to be fulfilled soon.
- Jesus sending messengers ahead of him is not an uncommon theme in Luke. In the next chapter Jesus sends out the 72 ahead of him, and they seem to have pretty much the same mission as the 12 at the beginning of this chapter. One could also argue that Luke 24: 46-49 was a sending of the same vein.
- Messenger language could very well me related to Malachi 3:1, which is directly quoted in Luke 7:21 and might have been associated with the coming Isaiah in the minds of the early Christians. A figure sending messengers ahead of him is not new, and in light of Malachi is quite interesting. The Old Testament prophet spoke to the Israelites, Jesus sending messengers before him into Samaria takes the old language and applies it to a new context.
- The fact that he is sending messengers into a Samaritan village shows that Jesus intended to travel through Samaria. Although there are no parallels to this passage in any of the other gospels, other gospels do seem to indicate that Jesus went around Samaria. Luke seems to be very interested in showing the interactions with the Samaritans. This could be because his audience was made up of mostly Gentiles.
- Main Idea: Jesus' use of messengers is for a reason, and it's interacting with the Old Testament and the expectations of the people around him. Although it was not unheard of for a pilgrim to go through Samaria, the idea of messengers preparing the way for God through Samaria was an unexpected twist. If the disciples saw themselves as the messengers spoken of in Malachi they themselves may have believed they were to be in some form an embodiment of the Elijah motif.
- Jesus' destination hinders his acceptance. He is turned away. Green argues that this is because the Samaritans are blind to Jesus purpose.6 This could be because he is seen as simply a pilgrim or it could have been because they knew about him and rejected him because he didn't fit into the mold of the expected Taheb.
- Jesus travels do not start out smoothly. This is the first encounter in the travel narrative and he is already facing some problems. As we mentioned in the previous section on Samaria problems for Pilgrims were not uncommon. This is why some crossed the Jordan and traveled around Samaria.
- This verse also functions as a way of highlighting the importance of Jerusalem.
- Main Idea: Jesus is rejected because he is heading to Jerusalem. His destination indicates his identity as a Jew. Jesus does not shy away from tensions, or make excuses for his identity to gain smooth passage. He would have known this route was full of trouble, but he still chose to take it.
- Here the Elijah motif comes back into play. Many scholars see this as directly related to 2 Kings 1 where Elijah calls down fire on those who come to bring him to the King who he had rebuked for seeking the aid of foreign Gods. Early copiest of this passage actually make the connection between 2 Kings and this rejection explicit.7 This variant still lives on today in the King James Version.
- James and John are not referred to as the "sons of thunder" as they were in Mark 3:17. However we must bring attention to the calling out of these disciples by name. Marshall suggests their names were added later.8 In order to stress the zeal of the disciples. These two disciples named together might operate as a quick and dirty way to underscore the nature of the question.
- Nolland believes Luke had decided not to include Mark 10:35-45, and may be making up for it here. In that passage James and John grasp at power. here too they grasp at power, but a different sort.9
- Main Idea: Even if Jesus is not himself making the connection between his disciples and the ministry of Elijah by sending them as messengers, the disciples seem to be making that connection themselves. They are seeking to operate in the same way the Elijah did in 2 Kings 1. Even though Jesus explicitly told those he sent at the beginning of the chapter to shake the dust off their feet if they are not welcomed, the disciples here believe their response to Samaritans should be one or retaliation. In 2 Kings 1 a divine death penalty is given to the king after he consults foreign gods. The disciples may see their role as that in line with the prophets in condemning those they feel are not within their own circle.
- In this passage Jesus gives a quick rebuke, and not much is said. However their are a number of textual variants here in which the rebuke is made with a bit more explanation. In these variants there is a common theme. Jesus tells his disciples that they do not know what spirit they are of in saying these things. In some manuscripts Jesus adds a teaching which states the son of man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them. These were probably added later.10
- Nolland notes that the rebuke language here is actually different then the language Luke generally uses. It sounds more like Mark 8:33.11 We must then ask what does Luke's rebuke language generally look like and why he chose to add a rebuke here. Every other time Jesus rebukes in Luke he does not rebuke a person. He rebukes the systems that oppress and endanger people. He rebukes sickness, demons, and weather. Jesus may be rebuking a system that oppresses people here as well.
- Main Idea: Although it is probably a later edition in manuscripts where Jesus tells his disciples that they don't know what spirit they are about when desiring to send fire, they hint at something that could very well be the undercurrent of Jesus' rebuke. The systematized hatred of Samaritans, like all systems of hate is a system the extends beyond those who feel the hate but has an ability to oppress both the hated and the hater. All Jesus' other rebukes in Luke overcome the system, Jesus overcomes the system of hate with a demonstration of his love. It is beautiful that Luke places this passage at the beginning of the travel narrative, where Jesus begins to move toward the cross where God's love is most powerfully shown.
- Jesus is not stopped by his rejection, he is just has to alter his plans. He moves on to another village, but it doesn't tell us where that village is.
- The same language is used in Luke 4:30 which is another rejection story.
- Main Idea: People can reject Jesus, but that doesn't stop him, it simply stops him from dwelling with them.
A final look: It seems that this passage is interacting with the overall structure of Luke with two main themes. First it interacts with the theme of the messengers being sent out, but it also interacts with the journey narrative that is introduced beginning at verse 51. On top of that there are a number of places where the Elijah motif enters into the picture. It is important to recognize all of these influences, but you must not to let them eclipse a powerful message that Jesus teaches his disciples. They are not to work within the systems of this world. Retaliation is not the answer. Although the Samaritans seem to be shown in a poor light here the focus Jesus gives them is in no way negative. In fact his movement through Samaria and his sending of messengers to Samaria are both indicators that Jesus saw Samaria as a part of his mission.
notes1 Fitzmyer, J. A. The Gospel According To Luke. 2 vols. Anchor Bible. (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1981), 824.
2 Stein, Robert H. Luke (New American Commentary) (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1993), 297.
3 Marshall, I. Howard.The Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1978), 405.
4 Nolland, J. Luke. 3 vols. Word Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word, 1989-1993,) 534.
5 Nolland, J. Luke. 3 vols. Word Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word, 1989-1993,) 534.6 Green, Joel B The Gospel of Luke (New international Commentary on the New Testament). (Grand rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 405.
7 Fitzmyer, J. A. The Gospel According To Luke. 2 vols. Anchor Bible. (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1981), 830.
8 Marshall, I. Howard.The Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1978), 404.
9 Nolland, J. Luke. 3 vols. Word Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word, 1989-1993,) 536.
10 Fitzmyer, J. A. The Gospel According To Luke. 2 vols. Anchor Bible. (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1981), 830.
11 Nolland, J. Luke. 3 vols. Word Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word, 1989-1993,) 536.