Gary Cohen’s film, Judah & Mohammad, depicts the separate lives 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. 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 same divide. Both film and novel reflect a contemporary story of hostility between Israelis and Palestinians that more or less replicates the relationship between Jews and Samaritans in the first century.
Jesus and his Galilean Jewish friends could hardly have expected a gracious welcome, though they may 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 Jesus’ decision to use Samaritan territory simply as a staging post on his journey to Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish life and worship. The Samaritans “did not receive him because his face was set towards Jerusalem”, centre of Jewish life and worship.
James and John have an excessively violent reaction to the unwelcoming Samaritans: “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” The force of this question can easily be lost. James and John have heard Jesus telling them to love their enemies, to do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who mistreat them (Luke 6:27-28). And yet they want to call down fire on those who do not receive him. Jesus makes it clear that violence is not the way of God’s prophet, even in the face of rejection. He has no word of condemnation for the villagers who failed to receive him. He simply turns and rebukes his two disciples and moves on to another village.
There is a sense of relentlessness in this 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. In the company of his disciples, Jesus now moves inexorably to Jerusalem where he will be “lifted up” in death and exaltation. Bringing the good news and establishing God’s reign of peace on our planetary home is the purpose of the journey. We are invited to enter into that journey with all its demands. There is no room on this journey for violence or for clinging to familiar securities. If we are serious about saving our planetary home, we must relinquish the certainties we have known and be prepared to “set our faces” towards whatever it takes to ensure God’s reign of peace in our common home.