Veronica Lawson RSM
Some time ago, ABC television in Australia featured a British film about the separate lives and education of two teenage school boys, one a Jewish Israeli and the other a Palestinian Arab.
Judah and Mohammad have never met and are unlikely ever to do so. Geographically, they are near neighbours, but their lives are separated by a ‘security wall’ that keeps them and their people effectively separated and suspicious of each other, despite the desire for peace of many on both sides of the wall.
Sandy Tolan’s heart-wrenching novel, The Lemon Tree, tells a similar story of women on either side of the divide. Both stories reflect a 50-year history of violent conflict and hostility. That is more or less how it was between Jews and Samaritans in the first century, although the hostility in that instance had endured for centuries.
A gracious welcome for Jesus’ friends could hardly have been expected in that climate, although it seems they would have been welcomed had Jesus planned to stay and worship in the temple on Mt Gerizim, the centre of Samaritan life and worship. The problem for the Samaritans is his decision to use Samaritan territory simply as a staging post on his journey to Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish life and worship.
The Galilean Jewish disciples James and John have an excessively violent solution for the unwelcoming Samaritans, namely destruction by fire. This is not the way of God’s prophet, even in the face of rejection, and he lets them know.
There is a sense of relentlessness in this gospel passage. Jesus has ‘set his face to Jerusalem’ and there is no turning back for him or for those who join him on the journey.
The episode marks a turning point in Luke’s gospel. Jesus, in the company of his disciples, now moves inexorably to Jerusalem where he will be ‘lifted up’ in death and exaltation.
Bringing the good news of God’s empire or kingdom is the purpose of the journey. We are invited to enter into that journey, to follow the story Sunday by Sunday over the months to come, and to be open to the transformation that comes from accepting the way of peace and non-retaliation.