He set his face to go to Jerusalem…On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans.”
In this week’s text Jesus turns toward Jerusalem where he will confront the brutal reality of sin head on. On his way to the city that he loves, he takes time to address some unresolved family matters that had been festering for a long time.
The rift dates back to 722 BC when the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel. The invasion resulted in intermarriages, the fruit of which was seen as unclean by most Jews. Samaritans were considered half-breeds, infidels, and impure.
Instead of going around Samaria on his way to Jerusalem, as all good Jews would do, Jesus insists on taking the direct route. Jesus walks through the heart of Samaria. In doing so, he walks through 700 years of hurt and the very heart of humanity. The disciples are incensed and want to call down the fire of judgment to consume the Samaritans.
The path to peace runs through a whole lot of pain. There is no way around it. We can deny it, numb it, avoid it, suppress it or try to expel it, but these strategies only increase its power. Jesus insists that we must pass through it if we want to transform it. And if we do not transform it we will transmit it, as Richard Rohr suggests.
Remember Jacob and Esau-twin brothers in rivalry? Their unresolved conflict festered and became a national conflict between the Israelites and the Edomites. The Israelites are from the line of Jacob. The Edomites are from the line of Esau. In fact, the shortest book in the Old Testament, Obadiah, is all about this conflict.
Fast forward. We should not be surprised to discover that King Herod is an Edomite and Jesus is an Israelite. They are siblings! We could frame the whole of human conflict as sibling rivalry. Consider Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Bloods and Crips, Christians and Muslims, black and white, gay and straight, democrats and republicans. The list goes on. When seen this way, all large-scale conflicts begin as small-scale sibling rivalries. It makes me pause to consider the implications of my own unresolved family matters.
Jesus makes it clear. The only path to Jerusalem is through Samaria. We must go through it. There is no way around Samaria without compounding the problem. Believe me, I’ve tried! But there are real risks. The Samaritans do not receive Jesus (v. 53), and the disciples want to rain down fire (v. 54).
Jesus shows us another way through Samaria. Jesus reveals the hated other as kin. That’s what the Incarnation does. It reveals that we are all brothers and sisters. Father Greg Boyle, author of Tattoos on the Heart, says it beautifully. “Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen.” Kinship, for Boyle, is the deepest truth of human relations. We are all kin.
Jesus shows us the way through Samaria. He passes through it as kin who has come to reconcile and is eager to forgive. It’s a hard but liberating call especially in an age when there are so many unresolved family conflicts festering in our cities today. Perhaps that is why Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). Jesus speaks with great urgency, knowing what lies ahead in Jerusalem.
It’s a sober ending to a difficult passage, but it’s the hope of our cities and it’s our call as kin.
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