"Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and
consume them?" Luke 9.54
It is a salutary lesson for all of us who claim to be religious that
Jesus did not call down God’s vengeance on those who did not worship
him and actively discouraged people from following. Yet the
has ever been want to condemn those who do not adhere to the orthodox
faith to eternal damnation and to make it a primary task to get others
to follow ‘Jesus’ - in precisely the same manner as ‘they’ do.
And I draw your attention to the fact that this is not a criticism of
some individuals in particular but the churches in general.
I am not
talking about a sin that individuals commit, but the corporate sin that
goes entirely unnoticed, precisely because it is the church that is
doing it and therefore it must be right, even though these words of
Jesus suggest it is wrong. I mean, if you can’t trust the
the learned preachers and theologians - who can you trust?
Time and again Jesus calls those in authority to critique what they had
turned faith in God into - a religion that despised the
less-than-devout and demanded the less-than-devout to become devout
like them. But Jesus turned this upside down and inside
associating with those who were the despised
I have often observed that these days Jesus command to love has been
replaced by devout ‘christians’ into ‘challenging’ the less-than-devout
to amend their lives. This seems a remarkably similar
who had Jesus killed would have had.
There have been occasions when I have heard someone preach and I have
been left thinking that the preacher has spent the time asking the
congregation questions, either with the expectation that they will be
‘ninnies’ if they come up with the wrong answer or leaving the
questions unanswered. I have often come away thinking that the
was an admission by the preacher that he or she didn’t know the answer,
and they were leaving it up to the congregation to answer it, if they
could be bothered! Somehow, I don’t think the gospel is all
complicated, and while indeed Jesus did ask his hearers questions, the
questions he asked were to the point. For example: ‘Which
debtors would love him the more?’ They were not questions
required a theological degree to answer.
Jesus renounced all use of force, even the moral force of punishment
for misdemeanors, or on people who refused to follow him.
We can only
conclude that following Jesus as a person was unimportant.
Jesus, by associating with others, was important - even others who
refused to follow Jesus.
But of course these days, each and every denomination claims special
revelation and status and all who do not follow can be
they not read this passage from Luke?
Indeed it seems that those who take the bible ‘literally’ are those so
want to condemn others to eternal damnation, quoting John 3.16: ‘God so
loved the world’ as if it means ‘God so hates the world that any who do
not believe the right things, live the right way, and worship in the
correct manner are damned by the Almighty.’ A remarkably
attitude to that of James and John, I would say. A recent
‘The Age’ was entitled: ‘Men lead, women obey?’ (June 10,
describes a resurgence of the theology of the subordination of women in
the Diocese of Melbourne, Australia. ‘According to Kevin
Melbourne evangelical minister and veteran of the fight for women's
equality within the church, the issue is "about power — who has it and
who doesn't, who determines how the Scriptures should be
reflect that this implies that scripture can be read in different
ways, and this implies in turn that any doctrine of the infallibility
of scripture is essentially meaningless. ‘Infallibility of
actually means the infallibility of the person who determines how the
scripture is read, a remarkably similar proposition to that of papal
The second section of our gospel - the three would-be followers who are
turned away, is often interpreted as pointing out the distinctiveness
But loving others who do not believe the right things, live the right
way, and worship in the correct manner is as distinctive as
does not necessarily mean that the disciple’s lives will be
comfortable. It must be made plain, it is not just that we
love the cherished members of our families - even members of the mafia
do this. The kingdom of God will not come about because
loves the cherished members of one’s own family. The
kingdom of God
will only come about when we love beyond these familial boundaries, for
if it doesn’t, then wars will continue, world without end,
this sense we must put the kingdom of God, the loving of others beyond
our familial relationships as a first priority, even when our families
demand our undivided attention. Even when our ‘church’
we proclaim IT as the only way, the only truth, the only life.
And I want to suggest that when I use the term familial relationships,
I mean this in the widest possible sense. It is not just
our natural family to which I refer, it is also clan relationships,
racial groups, national allegiance, social standing, gender, human
sexuality divides AND religious affiliation. For humanity
about each and every one of these. The different, in
however way they
are different, can be marginalised, alienated, killed and damned, and
all in the name of some god or other.
And this incident with the un-welcoming Samaritan town tells us that we
can’t marginalise, alienate, kill or damn anyone in the name of Jesus,
as the enthusiastic disciples, James and John thought - as well as
countless ‘disciples’ after them.
Our love must be in word and deed (Romans 15.18) and sometimes that
deed is what we don’t do; we don’t marginalise, alienate, kill or damn
anyone in the name of Jesus.
And if there is anything fundamental that we need to observe ourselves
and need to teach others, it is not that Jesus lived, died and rose
again 2000 years ago, but that we don’t marginalise, alienate, kill or
damn anyone in the name of Jesus.
For me this only puts flesh on the bones of ‘do unto others as you
would have them do unto you’ - but again applied wider than just our
personal relationships. The kingdom of God will not come
individuals do unto others as they would have done unto themselves,
while faith communities slog it out amongst themselves.
the faith communities continue to slog it out amongst themselves - even
in ‘debates’ about who is right - what earthly moral authority has the
church to suggest to its adherents that they should live up to precepts
that they themselves, as a ‘church’, ignore?
By logical extension what heavenly moral authority has God to suggest
that his / her followers ‘do unto others’ while condemning anyone to
eternal damnation at a whim?
Perhaps the question becomes: ‘Isn’t there some form of
hell?’ I am
endebted to David Eagleman: 'neuroscientist by day, novelist by night',
speaking on "All in the Mind" last year when he told the story: 'God
decides to sort of revolt against the structure that she had set up
(this binary categorisation into good and evil) and .. instead invites
everybody to come into Heaven and to be a part of Heaven.
ends up happening actually if I can just read the last line here: 'So
she brings everyone to Heaven and everyone's achieved true equality and
the communists are baffled and irritated because they have finally
achieved their perfect society, but only with the help of a God in whom
they didn't want to believe. The meritocats are
they're stuck for eternity in an incentiveless system with a bunch of
pinkos. The conservatives have no penniless to disparage,
liberals have no downtrodden to promote, so God sits on the edge of her
bed and weeps at night because the only thing everyone can agree upon
is that they are all in Hell.''
So yes, I do believe in a hell, but it is one of the church’s own
making, but making in the here and now, not in any time to
is all in my attitude and your attitude, whether I and we choose to
live in heaven or in hell. And there is little point in
hell in the hopes of something better in an after-life, whether that
exists or not.
The un-welcoming Samaritan town was un-welcoming precisely because
Jesus had ‘his face set toward Jerusalem’ and therefore they believed
that Jesus was coming to reinforce the legitimacy of orthodox Temple
worship and the illegitimacy of their unorthodox worship.
that Jesus came to critique orthodox worship where that excluded
others. So they were right to refuse to welcome Jesus’
for they hadn’t got the message of God’s love for all. When
that right message, they would no doubt re-evaluate their
And it is clear that even then ‘religion’ was recognised to reinforce
differences not bridge them. Have we learned better even yet?
And the refusal to condemn the un-welcoming Samaritan town is a
paradigm of the incarnation itself, where Jesus came not to criticise,
condemn, torment or challenge; but to accept and to love
the disciples, who had far less excuse to get the message wrong than
those in the Samaritan town, believed that they as followers were
privileged enough to condemn others who were not so privileged!
So the question that the gospel puts before us today is precisely the
same. Do we believe as worshipping Anglicans / Christians /
faith that we are so privileged that we are entitled to condemn others
who are not so privileged, or are we rather called to strive to follow
Jesus and be incarnated into society and accept all, even the reluctant
and the less-than-devout?