A reflection on Luke 9:51-56
In this text, two of Jesus’ most beloved disciples are ready to engage in what we may describe as an act of terror by calling down fire on their social enemies, the Samaritans. And the disciples are explicit … they intend this holy fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.
Just before this incident, Jesus and the disciples had a mystical experience on the mountain, where they met Moses and Elijah. In the book of 2 Kings in the Hebrew Bible, we read how the prophet Elijah had called down fire on 100 servants of King Ahaziah, so perhaps this precedent of “fire from heaven” was on the minds of the disciples as they were on their way to Jerusalem, arguing about who would be the greatest.
Jesus rebuked the disciples, and they went on to another village.
It’s only a few days later in Luke’s narrative, in chapter 10, that Jesus recounts the story of the traveler going from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked by thieves and left beside the road to die. As we know the story, respected religious leaders come by, a priest and a Levite, and neither of them attends to the wounds of the traveler. Imagine then the disciples’ chagrin when the one who stops to aid the wounded man is not a fisherman, like many of them, but a Samaritan.
Here in this story, Jesus reaches back to the experience several days earlier, picks up one of the hated Samaritans the disciples wanted to destroy with fire from heaven, and inserts him into the story as the one offering God’s grace, healing and mercy. In the context of the social animosity of the time—and the disciples own lived experience—this must have been shocking.
Here are several reflections that would be relevant to drone or a more conventional air war:
1. If the impulse to resort to an act of terror is in the hearts of Jesus’ most beloved disciples, surely it is in our hearts, too. In some translations of the text, Jesus says, “You don’t know what spirit you are of.” The impulse to use violence and give it divine blessing is a strong temptation that Jesus rejects. The use of violence, at its deepest level, is a spiritual issue, and as a faith community we must ask ourselves the spiritual question, Do we know what spirit we are of? What is the spirit of the drone?
2. In this encounter at the Samaritan village and the story we often describe as the Good Samaritan, Jesus does not engage in detailed ethical arguments about fire from heaven—when, where, against whom and under what circumstances it may be used. Instead, Jesus introduces an entirely new paradigm by demonstrating that the disciples’ social enemies, the Samaritans, can be instruments of God’s grace and healing. Through Jesus’ intervention, borne out of his own relationships with the Samaritan community, the enemy becomes human—capable of mercy—and the entire framework changes. Is this not our task? Have we as a faith community endeavored to know and witness to the humanity of those caught in the crosshairs of our government’s drone strikes?
3. Finally, it is interesting to note that the disciples longing to call down fire on the Samaritan village required divine intervention. An intervention Jesus firmly denied. We, on the other hand, have presumed to package fire from heaven in high-tech weaponry that can deliver death when and where we choose from within the safety of our own communities—without any consultation with the divine. Are we and our systems of security becoming gods unto ourselves? Have we lost touch with our own humanity?
What is the spirit of the drone? Do we know the humanity of our enemies? What has become of our own humanity? Let us reflect in silence.
O God who calls us to love with heart, soul, mind and strength, we confess that we have used the genius of our minds and the skill of our hands to create a “fire from heaven” that falls out of clear blue sky on a people we do not know. Their blood cries from the ground, many of our soldiers are troubled in mind and spirit, and we are not secure. Is there no other way?
Have mercy, O God. Inspire our minds with the spark of your imagination. Free us from the fears that bind us so that we may be bound instead by the power of your love to our brothers and sisters in your many-peopled human family. And may we find great courage, beauty and liberating joy as we seek to walk together in the way of peace on the path of justice. Amen.
Titus Peachey is peace education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee.