He sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.(Luke 9:52-56, ESV)
This passage has always fascinated me. I would love to have been a fly on the inside of James and John’s brains when they hatched this idea. When had they ever seen Jesus propose fire from heaven as the answer? What gave them the impression it was worth a shot this time?
Looking closer, what concerns me about this passage isn’t in these verses. Instead, it’s in the first verses of the chapter. In Luke 9:1-6, Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Matthew includes the instruction, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no towns of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
As Jesus sends them out, he instructs them, “Wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5). But that was at the beginning of chapter 9. Things are different here at the end.