When Jesus empowers James and John with miraculous powers, it is inevitable that they will try to use them in wrong ways. Like a child with a power tool, they must be taught to wield these abilities properly. Frustrated at a group of Samaritans for not receiving Jesus, they ask him, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”(Luke 9:54). Jesus literally turns and rebukes them (Luke 9:55). He has not come to earth to kill everyone who makes him angry.
James and John represent a way of dealing with relationships. When others offend or upset us, there is no talking it out. There is no hope for coming to terms. There is no getting over it. Instead, there is only anger (that feels justified!) and insistence that others be punished. These people become our enemies and we work to undermine and hurt them back. This is the nuclear option—let’s blow the whole thing up.
It is possible for us to march through life with the spirit of James and John. We give someone the benefit of the doubt until they upset us in some way. Then we cross them off our list. We grow bitter about what they have done. We tell others about it. We wear it as a chip on our shoulder. We refuse to spend time with them or acknowledge them. In time, more and more people find their way to getting crossed off our list—and we assume it’s always their fault. We grow increasingly isolated from people, but we cannot even see that this is by our own choice.
Jesus, meanwhile, pictures relationships as needing maintenance and forgiveness (Matt 5:23-24, Matt 18:15, 21-35). While there are definitely evil people who are only trying to hurt us (see Matt 7:6), even the best relationships will involve occasional pain, disappointment, and frustration. Yet if we are willing to be patient with people, we often discover that our initial impressions about them were incorrect. Sometimes people change. Occasionally they reconsider the behavior that hurt us. We may just get over it. Sometimes we can look back on it and laugh.
It might also help us to remember that on many occasions, we have disappointed and angered others. What kind of reaction would we hope for from them (Matt 7:12)?
Jesus rebukes the nuclear option and the anger that prompts it. Are there relationships in your life that need more patience?