Wednesday in Proper 21
I don't remember the details, but I remember being fascinated when I read about a conductor who decided to defy a longstanding tradition and lead his orchestra in the performance of a piece of music by Wagner while touring in Israel. Wagner, of course, was one of Adolf Hitler's favorite musicians. Like many nineteenth-century Germans, Wagner held widespread anti-Semitic views, and that racially exclusive ideology is manifest in some of his works. Primarily because of his adoration by the Third Reich and not because of the content of his music, Wagner's music was unofficially banned from public performance in Israel. In an interview after the controversial performance, the conductor said that he decided to perform Wagner after hearing an Israeli's cell phone play Wagner as its ring tone. He wanted to push the boundaries and seized on the opportunity. He wanted to question why a musician's talent and gift to the world should be excluded because of its less-than-stellar reputation.
Sometimes individuals and movements become so closely linked with particular symbols or cultural icons that we forget how to think of them separately. In Luke 9, Jesus is on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He has fed the 5,000. He has been identified by Peter as the Messiah. He has predicted his death and resurrection. He has gone up the mountain and been transfigured before Peter, James, and John. He has descended back into the world and has set his face to Jerusalem and the fate that awaits him there. But you can't get from Galilee to Judea without passing through Samaria, and Samaria meant trouble.
Or did it? You've heard about the hatred that existed between Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritans were the descendants of the Jews, who had stayed behind after the exile, and whose parents had intermarried with their Babylonian oppressors. The Samaritans didn't have the tradition of the Exile and the biblical, prophetic tradition that came with it. They didn't take part in the centralized worship that happened on the temple mount in Jerusalem. They had their own traditions and customs, and they represented everything that Jewish people hated. They were not merely unfaithful but anti-faithful. Their very existence was a reminder that the world wasn't the way it was supposed to be--the way that Israel's God had declared it should be. But with Jesus times had begun to change.
As Zechariah prophesied, in the last days, when God's Messiah comes, "Men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'" And where will they go? To Jerusalem. "Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem." In other words, peoples from all traditions and tribes will see that the Lord is to be found in Jerusalem, and they will come to meet him there. That's what God's people believe. And now that the disciples are certain that their master is, indeed, the Messiah, they know that this is the time when all people--even the Samaritans--will come with them to Jerusalem to celebrate the fulfillment of all of God's promises. That's why they go into the Samaritan town and seek a place to rest on the journey. Normally, a Jewish person wouldn't dream of stopping in that hostile territory, but this isn't just their dream but God's dream, and they know that, since Jesus is the one on whom the whole world has been waiting, they will be warmly received there.
But they aren't. "Because Jesus' face was set toward Jerusalem," Luke tells us, "they would not let him stay." Some habits are hard to break. When the Samaritans hear that Jesus and his disciples are headed to Jerusalem, they know that he's just another Samaritan-hating, Samaritan-denouncing, Samaritan-oppressing Jew who thinks that Jerusalem is the center of God's universe. They want nothing to do with Jerusalem and a prophet who declares that all peoples must go there to meet God. They have already met God, thank you very much, and they don't need a Jerusalem-loving Jew to help them see him.
What is the disciples' response? "Jesus, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" Surely, if you are the fulfillment of God's promises, then anyone who won't come with us, anyone who won't accept us, is standing in the way of God's kingdom. Do you want us to ask your Father to destroy them? But Jesus rebukes them. And then he heads on his way.
Do you ever feel so excited about something that you can't imagine how anyone else wouldn't share your excitement? Do you ever feel so certain about something that you cannot help but dismiss any naysayers as clearly being on the wrong side? Have you ever hoped for something so fervently that someone or something that stands in the way feels less like an impediment and more like an enemy? That's the thing about love. It does not insist on its own way. It reaches out and trusts that those who reject it will not defeat it. As Wesley the farm boy from The Princess Bride declared, "Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for a while." Why? Because true love does not demand anything it return. It is not deterred by the actions or inactions of others. It just loves. It invites. It hopes. And it loves. That is the way of Jesus. Even if the world rejects it, it is still the way of Jesus. It is still the way of love.