Ahaziah fell out of his upper chamber in his palace in the city of Samaria. And then he got sick. He wanted to know if he was going to die, so he sent some messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. Well, Yahweh didn’t like this very much and he sent Elijah to intercept those messengers with the message that Ahaziah will indeed die. And what does Ahaziah do? Well, he doesn’t repent. He sends a commander of fifty men along with said fifty men to force Elijah to come to a camp meeting. And Elijah calls down fire from heaven and consumes the commander and his fifty men. This happens twice. The third time, the commander, who is terrified and humbled, begs Elijah to spare his life and the life of his fifty men and to come meet with Ahaziah. Elijah comes down and tells Ahaziah that he will die because he sought out the god of Ekron instead of the God of Israel. This story is found in 2 Kings 1. And the story resonated with the Jews. I mean, what’s not to love? You have the man of God; you have the faithless king and his commanders and warriors; and you have fire from heaven displaying the glory of God.
Luke 9:51-56 is about direction and mission. The days were becoming full for Jesus to be taken up. This most likely refers to his death; his transition from this world to the throne of God. And Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. This is a Jewish idiom for determination. Jesus was determined to go to the very place that would lead to the cross. This was his mission; this was a submitting to the will of God to the point of suffering, betrayal, death and resurrection. Jesus is going to pass through Samaria, which was the most direct route from Galilee to Judah and Jerusalem. He sends some messengers before his face (or, ahead of him) and they enter this unnamed Samaritan village to prepare the way for Jesus. This phrase is strangely familiar. It is reminiscent of Malachi 3:1 and, therefore, the ministry of John the Baptist. But wait one minute here. These nameless messenger (the word is literally “angels”) are sent to the Samaritans to prepare the way. Most translations say something like “make arrangements” as if the goal was to set up some kind of temporary housing situation for Jesus and his entourage. But again, the language is similar to the prophecy concerning God sending his messenger to clear the way before him. Later, in Malachi 4:5, this messenger is identified as Elijah. Jesus wants the Samaritans prepared for his coming. What?
This village finds out that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and this doesn’t sit too well. You see, there is this long-standing disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans worship God at Mount Gerizim and the Jews say, “nope! Yahweh is to be worshiped in Jerusalem.” And because Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem and has slighted Gerizim, they refuse to welcome him. They miss the message because they don’t like Jesus’ direction. Now, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They feel slighted, so they stomp their collective feet and reject the one who could make all of the arguments between themselves and the Jews come to a decisive end.
When James and John hear about this, they ask Jesus if he desires for them to command fire to come down from heaven and destroy the whole stinking village. The wording is strikingly similar to the Elijah story and most accept that the disciples had that story in mind when they longed to wield heaven-fire and wipe out the ungrateful Samaritan village. Jesus turned toward the two would be fire wielders and rebuked them. Later manuscripts added what they believed that rebuke must have been. But the earliest manuscripts simply have that Jesus rebuked them and then they all went on their way. His direction is Jerusalem. His mission is suffering and death so that all might be saved. He sends messengers to prepare the way, not with destruction, but with information and invitation. I don’t think Luke recorded the nature of the rebuke, and maybe he didn’t record any words here because he wanted to emphasize that they continued on to the next village. That village had rejected. Okay. Move one.
Jesus set his face to go to the cross; to submit to the will of God. Some people don’t like that direction. I mean it kind of smells of death. So, they refuse to welcome the Kingdom; the Messiah; the Good News. Our response should not be destroying fire. We move on to the next person; the next neighborhood; the next city; the next country. No matter where we go, we proclaim the message of Jesus. And yes, we desperately want people to welcome Jesus. And when they refuse; traipsing after other gods; and other holy places, we may be tempted to transform into fire-of-heaven wielders. But don’t. Simply move on.