Luke 9:51-56 (NIV)Call it what you like — attacking a fly with a sledgehammer, bringing a gun to a knife fight, etc., — but the reaction of James and John in this story is entirely out of line with the reality of the situation. I’m no expert on Middle Eastern history, but it doesn’t entirely surprise me Jesus, at this point in his ministry, wasn’t welcome in Samaria. Yet here come the disciples, suggesting God’s power be used to literally rain fir from the sky to wipe out a population. Have they been listening to Jesus at all by this point?
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?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
I write this realizing there are plenty of times in my life where James or John or any other disciple could look at me and ask the same question: Have I been listening at all? If only overreacting were a marketable skill, perhaps we could have bought a car with a sunroof like I’ve always wanted. It’s nice to read the stories where the disciples have moments of putting their humanity on unfiltered display. It reminds me that even those who walked side by side with Jesus as he spoke the words that would change the world could still trip on their own feet and make entirely preventable mistakes.
Of course the real goal is to not make those mistakes in the first place. But I’ve been trying that model for about thirty years now, and it’s not working out so great. Falling short is inevitable. Not every time, of course, but often enough to accept I’ll never be perfect. I’m just glad no one tries to call fire down from heaven to destroy me — and that Jesus is always willing to go with me to the next village where I can try again.
In thinking about this story as it relates to my children, I have two desires. One is for God to grant me the patience to offer my children as many second chances as they need, to be able to create a home where they can always return after a mistake, seek forgiveness knowing it will be granted, dust themselves off and try again. The second is for my children to never do something so horrible that I have to tap into that serious reserve just to grit my teeth through an, “It’s OK, we forgive you” concession.
I’m certain I’ve already overreacted to something my kids have done — too many times to try to count. And I’m sure I’ll do so another too many times. It’s enough of a problem I’m constantly working on reining myself in to the point where on occasion I worry if I might be reacting with less intensity than is warranted, thereby giving the impression the situation isn’t actually serious.
As quick as I might be with a pun or joke, I’m really quite bad at thinking in the moment when it comes to dealing with the kids in most of their abnormal states. Whether they’re aggressively fighting or exceedingly excited about some upcoming event, the farther away they get from their baseline, the more likely I am to ignore my own center. I’d like to think being aware of the issue has helped me address my flaws and try to repair them, but it’s an uphill climb.
Still, I won’t be asking for fire from heaven. Even I have my limitations. The key is to remember to bring God into the moment instead of dealing with it through prayer hours after the fact. I don’t yet know what it will take to get me to shift my focus immediately when tensions rise, but I pray those answers will come, and soon.
A prayer for May 13:
Lord, thank you for your patience with me. I wish everyone in my life was as tolerant as my missteps, and I further wish I had the clarity of mind to stop wandering off the path you set before me. I know you are with me every moment, but sometimes I need something to make me aware of your presence. I have to be shaken away from my inward focus to see the world as you do and to respond accordingly. I wish I weren’t like this so often, and I need your help to change. Mold me as you see fit. Amen.