On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53 but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 55 Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they journeyed to another village.
The rejection at the beginning of Jesus’ travel narrative corresponds to the rejection in Nazareth at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (4:16-30). Both of these rejections come soon after the similar events of Jesus’ baptism (3:21-22)) and his transfiguration (9:28-36). Many scholars suggest that both the people in Nazareth and in the Samaritan villages reject Jesus because they cannot accept his understanding and embodiment of the divine purpose. It is clear that he is heading towards Jerusalem. We know (and so did Luke’s readers) what will happen to him there.
The hostility of the Samaritans is not the personal hatred Jesus will meet in Jerusalem. It is evidence of the national or racial prejudice between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus’ disciples cannot expect to be free from this treatment, but the answer is not retaliation. James and John must learn to avoid useless clashes and to look for new places to spread the kingdom.
Craddock (Luke, p.143) writes: “One can almost appreciate the anger of James and John over the refusal of hospitality to Jesus; they are being protective and do not know how to handle rejection. They bring to mind overzealous evangelists of another generation who extended God’s grace to the audience and then tossed balls of hellfire at those who refused the offer. Jesus’ disciples remember quite well scriptural precedent for calling down heaven’s fire (2 Kings 1:9-10), but they have forgotten the recent words of Jesus: when on a mission, accept the hospitality offered you. If none is extended, shake the dust off your feet and move on (9:1-6). Is it not interesting how the mind can grasp and hold those Scriptures when seem to bless our worst behavior and yet cannot retain past the sanctuary door those texts which summon to love, forgiveness, and mercy?”
Luke 9:53 not welcome him because the destination … Jerusalem: Josephus tells us that Samaritans were not averse to ill-treating pilgrims going up to Jerusalem, even to the extent of murdering them on occasion (Bellum ii.232; Antiquities xx.118; this latter passage tells us that it was the custom of the Galileans to pass through Samaria at festival time).
Luke 9:54 to call down fire from heaven: Clear allusions to the Elijah narrative can be detected in this verse. In 2 Kings 1:1–17 fire came down twice at Elijah’s request to kill the messengers of Ahaziah, king of Samaria, who rejected the God of Israel by turning to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. The fact that early Christians were fully able to recognize this connection with the Elijah story is evidenced in the scribal insertion of the phrase hōs kai Ēlias epoiēsen (“as also Elijah did”) in a number of manuscripts (A C D W Θ Ψ f1.13). Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples’ request to destroy the Samaritans who reject Jesus is therefore unexpected in light of the scriptural precedent. It does, however, point to the arrival of a new era when God will act in a new way. The theme of reversal should not be missed when Jesus travels to Jerusalem to proclaim judgment on God’s people while he apparently refuses to condemn the “foreigners” or “outcasts.”
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 400-409.
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
Additional Notes: The Origins of the Samaritans
Samaritan Version. The Samaritans have insisted that they are direct descendants of the N Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the N kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.e. The inscription of Sargon II records the deportation of a relatively small proportion of the Israelites (27,290, according to the annals [ANET, 284–85]), so it is quite possible that a sizable population remained that could identify themselves as Israelites, the term that the Samaritans prefer for themselves.
Samaritan theology of history would place the basic schism at the time Eli moved the sanctuary from Shechem to Shiloh, establishing both an illegitimate priesthood and place of worship. From the time of Moses until that move was the Era of Divine Favor. With that move began the Era of Disfavor, which would exist until the coming of the Taheb or savior.
Old Testament Version. Jewish accounts, characterized by 2 Kings 17 and Josephus (Ant 9.277–91) claim that the Samaritans are descendants of colonists brought into the region of Samaria by the Assyrians from other lands they had conquered, including Cuthah, and thus the Jewish designation of Samaritans as Cutheans (Ant 9.290). The Jews have argued that the veneer of Israelite religion displayed by the Samaritans is the result of instruction by an Israelite priest repatriated from Assyria after the colonists had been attacked by lions sent by God (2 Kings 17:25–26).