September 27, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

Today's Readings

The Samaritans hated the Jews, and the Jews hated the Samaritans, but the Samaritans did not refuse to welcome Jesus because he was Jew, but because he was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We know from other stories that Jesus stayed and taught in Samaritan towns for days at a time, but this time Jesus was one of many thousands of Jews heading to Jerusalem for the feast. The Samaritans are refusing to be hospitable specifically because of the pilgrimage.

James and John are not only offended for Jesus’ sake; they are offended as Jews. Normally they would simply spit on the town and curse it, but they are taking seriously Jesus’ claim that God will do whatever we ask with faith. So they ask the Lord politely whether he wants them to call fire down from heaven to destroy the city that was so offensive.

James and John grew up hearing about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven. They are exaggerating to equate inhospitality with the rape and violence of those cities, but it was in the heat of the moment.

They were expecting the Christ to conquer the enemies of Israel. They were expecting the Christ to establish and everlasting kingdom. They were expecting the Christ to come in power and majesty. That day they learned, not for the first time nor for the last, that Jesus Christ was not what they were expecting. He was a conqueror, a king, powerful and majestic. He conquered sin and death. He established the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. His power and majesty were perfectly revealed on the Cross.

It is not as if God got older and wiser. It is not as if he was just trying something out there in Sodom but has changed tactics since. God does not change; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God of fire and brimstone raining down on the Sodomites, the God of a flood destroying all of humanity except one family, the God who killed the first-born sons in all of Egypt, is Jesus Christ.

All of those acts were just, and it would have been just to destroy that town too. Forty years later, God destroyed Jerusalem, the city where he was killed. As God said to Ezekiel, “I have no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that he turn from his way and live…but in the injustice that he has done he shall die.” God has been merciful to us, but do not imagine that this means that God has forgotten how to punish!