Calling Down Fire

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
- Luke 9:51-54

James and John are offended that people did not welcome Jesus, so they escalate tensions and go for the kill. There are a couple of pieces of their dysfunction worth noting. The first is that they get offended for Jesus. Jesus seems like a big enough person to handle himself, doesn’t he? I mean, do they really need to step in and protect him or defend him? He calmed the storms, after all (not to mention casting out demons!). So we see here why James and John are nicknamed elsewhere ‘hotheads’ (Sons of Thunder, literally). When it comes to racial and ethnic tension, there are far too many hotheads in the church.

The second issue is that they are misapplying scripture, trying to imitate Elijah who called down fire from heaven (although he didn’t technically even call down fire, but that sort of subtlety would be lost on James and John). Like using passages in Ephesians to justify slavery, anytime we weaponize scripture, we’ve misinterpreted it. Anytime we use it against someone - to vent our anger, to show our superiority, to win an argument - we’ve already lost. Because the whole purpose of scripture is to draw people to Jesus (see John 5:39-42).

Over and over again the church has been a part of the segregation and violation and oppression of people groups who were not in power. Today is a day to lament for how much we’ve been like James and John. Take some time today to grieve with Jesus over all the ways the church has been a part of these injustices. Sit quietly; name the sins you’re aware of; ask for mercy and for justice and for open doors to move forward in new ways.