“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village (Lk 9:54-56).
James and John’s request of Jesus ought to be recognizable to many, if not all of us. How many times when feeling slighted or disrespected do we want to act in kind or offer some retribution to our perceived offender? Many times, we do not even think we just react overtly back or we engage in our own tumultuous internal maelstrom.
Jesus rebuked James and John’s request immediately and moved on. He did not allow the rejection of the Samaritans to deter his course for even one second.
The most helpful response to today’s Gospel is to affirm that Jesus is correct in his response to the Samaritan’s lack of hospitality and James and John are wrong. If we can agree with that as our starting point, then we can seek to understand what Jesus can teach us when encountering others.
First, our approach to others extending unkind behavior is to be one of understanding. We are all dealing with a lot, and much of what others are dealing with are unknown to us. If we approach another’s unkind or disrespectful action from a place of understanding instead of seeking revenge, we will have a better chance of not reacting in kind and also possibly being able to help another to get in touch and reveal something they are struggling with.
Often a negative response may come from misunderstandings. Our first response ought to be one of giving the person the benefit of the doubt to explain their understanding of what happened in a given situation. We are not mind-readers and we also are not the best of communicators so resisting jumping to rash conclusions is a better course of action.
A third approach is to receive a critique with humility. Maybe, we have done something to cause hurt toward another, intentionally or unintentionally. By taking responsibility for that which we have done and apologizing for it, we create a better bridge for reconciliation.
We are only responsible for our actions. We cannot dictate or change the behaviors of others. We are not to be doormats for another’s abuse nor take on their stuff either. But we are to approach conflict and obstacles with patience, understanding, a willingness to bring clarity, and humility for acknowledging what we have done and what we have failed to do, but if another is not willing to hear reason, we move on.
We pray for and respect the dignity of the person whether we agree or disagree with the outcome while holding them accountable at the same time. Jesus is very clear that we are to love, meaning that we are to will each other’s good and we need to be willing to forgive, to love each other through our mistakes and sin.
None of these steps are easy. Human relationships are difficult in the best of scenarios, but still well worth the effort. Neither JoAnn nor I were perfect, but we did our best to follow these principles and others, such that our conflicts became opportunities that helped us to grow closer together rather than further apart. Above all we need to seek the guidance of Jesus and those who we trust and are willing to hold us accountable such that we can grow and mature as the disciples of Jesus that he calls us to be.
Jesus brought JoAnn and me together and putting him first in our lives helped us to grow in our relationship with him and each other.