Running with the Wrong Crowd: The Rejected Luke 9: 51-56

Charlie Brown and LucyLucy tell Charlie Brown, “I would make a good evangelist.”  Charlie Brown asks, “What makes her think so?”  She says, I convinced the boy who sits in front of me at school that my religion is better than  his.”  Again, Charlie Brown asks, “How did you do that?”  Lucy simply says, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.”

Criticisms of a pastoral opinion or a sermon point, comes with the territory. But, the harshest criticisms make it difficult to not personalize a sense of rejection.  At times, when I feel rebuffed, I wish I had a lunch box.  This is the trap that befalls James and John; seeking Jesus’ consent to retaliate against the Samaritans for not welcoming them.

Try to imagine what Jesus followers felt when Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem”.  Jesus had known success as crowds hailed him as the hoped-for-one.  He also experienced early rejections as hometown folk and rural religious leaders questioned him.  Now he was certainly headed toward the wrong crowd as he sets his course to the nerve center of Jewish traditions.  Luke makes no bones about it, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up…”  True north for Jesus was due south to Jerusalem.Road Sign Jerusalem

Jesus passes through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem, the natural route to travel from Galilee to Judea.  The Jews held the Samaritans in such low esteem that most took the detour; traveling the coastal road or crossing the Jordan, travel along the east bank and then re-crossing once they passed by Samaria.  Jesus held no prejudices, so he takes the direct route through the province, again showing his disciples there’s no wrong crowd for him.

Jesus sends messengers to a Samarian village to prepare for his arrival.  The disciples traipse through the town looking for sympathizers; hoping to find a Samaritan who would welcome Jesus.  The villagers hadn’t yet heard he tell the Good Samaritan story; nor had they heard of his encounter with the Samarian woman at the well.  They couldn’t have known Jesus was friend of the rejected.  So, it was a hard sell; convincing these Jewish kin who were enemies of the Jews that Jesus was on their side. 

SamartitansSamaritans felt rejected because they were the ones left behind when Israel was exiled to Babylon.  Most were uneducated, unthreatening, and thus unworthy of deportation.  With no one left, they intermarried with non-Jews.  When the exiled Jews returned, they sneered at Samaritans as half-breed infidels who had poisoned the faith.  

The Samaritans thought they conserved the teachings of the Torah, they were conservatives.  They accused the returning Jews of adopting liberal ways of a foreign land; they were liberals.  Each thought the other was a traitor to the true God; setting up criteria for what was faithful or unfaithful.  The Jews held the power, thus the Samaritans were the rejected.

James and John, fresh off rejection by the Samaritans wanted to administer their own rejection medicine.  They wanted to dish out some shock and awe to the infidels.  Forgiveness is not top of the mind when we’re rejected.  When we feel rejected, we do what we know-reject; it’s a vicious cycle. Shock and Awe

An Indian, a cowboy, and a Muslim are talking.  The Muslim goes on talking and talking.  The cowboy gets tired, pulls his hat down, sticks a toothpick in his mouth, and naps.  When the Muslim stops, the Indian laments: Once we many, now we few.  The Muslim brags: Once we were few, now we are many. Why do you think that is?  The cowboy perks up and says, We ain’t played cowboys and Muslims yet!”  Jesus takes no thrill in playing cowboys and anything with those who others reject.  Winning by making others lose or adding to the flock by subtraction isn’t the Jesus way.  

Our reluctance to offer forgiveness is usually rooted in unfounded fears of what might happen if we forgive the rejected for rejecting us; not fully trusting the hand of God.  This causes us to seek our own way, though we know getting even will never satisfy.  Our desire for vengeance leashes us to those who rejected us.  It’s like walking an untrained dog: who’s following who?  A leash has two ends that can tie us up.  As long as we hold on to strong feelings toward those who reject us, they hold on us, too.  

Walking AwaySetting our face toward the current call of God means, turning our backs on the past; offering forgiveness, and leaving alone those who reject us.  When we walk forward letting go; leaving our backsides exposed.  This is the risk we take when running with the wrong crowd others have rejected.

Jesus runs with the rejected crowd; holding no ill will toward persons whom others wouldn’t be caught dead in their company. He practices what he preaches until he breathed his last.  After he’s scourged, mocked, and nails hammered in his body he doesn’t say, “I should forgive those who rejected me, I’m going to even the score; cast down fire on these ingrates.”  Instead he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  After being rejected in Samaria and Jerusalem Jesus doesn’t strike back or will the ruin of his detractors.  He does nothing; there’s a lot of something in nothing.  It takes more strength to hold and keep the peace than it takes to strike back.  Tolerance and empathy are needed to resist retaliating at those who reject.  

Running with the rejected requires tolerance for those who walk different paths and practice different beliefs.  Samaritans had offered to help rebuild Jerusalem as Jews returned from exile.  They were refused; sparking a feud that lasted for 500 years.  In the years that followed, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and instituted their own priesthood.  They rejected the Old Testament except for the Torah and claimed to have a copy older than any possessed by the Jews.  Once, they sneaked into the Jewish temple leaving a pig on the altar, polluting the sacred place.  Mutual rejections breed ignorance, fear, prejudice, and bigotry.  Love Never Fails

Tolerance requires being secure in our faith in God, leaving the changing of others up to the work of God’s spirit.  This shows a trust in the hand of God while respecting the rejected that are very different from us.  We tolerate in the same manner Jesus tolerated those who rejected him; believing God is equally active in all persons lives, even the rejected.

Running with the rejected requires empathy that doesn’t personalize the rejection others make us feel.  The Samaritans thought knew Jesus, so they identified him as a Jew, thus rejecting him.  They assumed Jesus held the same contempt other Jews directed toward them.  They snubbed him based on the group they thought he associated.  If the Samaritans had given him a chance they would have known his compassion for them as he shared his love for each; offering a peace that village had rarely known.  

EmpathyEmpathy takes into account others actions are tied to previous events.  Thus, our empathy helps us see that any rejection we experience is usually tied to a rejection experienced by the person rejecting us.  Empathy is cultivated when relationship precedes label; giving persons a chance to show their character apart from any assumed identity is the way forward.  Not all poor students are intellectually challenged; liberals, loose; conservatives, callous; Americans, arrogant; Southerners, rednecks; Muslims, terrorists; immigrants, freeloaders; or church people, hypocrites.  Our empathy allows us to be in relationship with the rejected.

In the face of rejection, Jesus finds another way.  Jesus and disciples went to another village and to Jerusalem by another route.  God’s redeeming work can’t be thwarted by human actions.  God doesn’t lose momentum when we hit each other with our lunch boxes.  The new course may not be apparent, but God’s hand is at work and our faith must not waver.  We are to offer tolerance and empathy; even when we feel rejected and do not know what to do with each other for the moment. Refugee

We’re to run with Jesus in the wrong crowd, despite being rejected by the rejected.  We are to offer as much as possible, to those who reject us.  Running with Jesus always put us in the wrong crowd.  Go figure? 

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Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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