Proper 8C June 30, 2013
Today’s reading from the Epistle to the Galatians tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The word translated “patience” in the New Revised Standard Version and “long suffering” in the King James is the Greek makrothumi’a. It combines two words - the adjective makros and the noun thumos, derived from the verb thuo – to make an offering by fire, strong passion, particularly strong anger or rage. We think of it as the opposite of short-tempered, or if there were such a word, long-tempered. God is long-tempered toward our sins. Jesus is long-tempered toward the inhospitable Samaritan village. One of the aspects of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives is makrothumi’a or long-temper. Makrothumi’a is a gift of God, a gift we can receive and show forth in the world Jesus Christ redeemed by his death, a gift of the resurrection and new life. May we seek after and show forth makrothumi’a.
There are at least three roads from Galilee to Jerusalem. The main road now goes down the Mediterranean coast, and then east and up to Jerusalem. In Jesus’ time that was the long way around and rarely used. Jesus knew two roads, the winter road along the Jordan valley to Jericho, then west and up to Jerusalem, and the summer road south over the hills through Samaria coming to Jerusalem from the north.
Today’s gospel tells us the Samaritan villages did not welcome Jesus and his disciples. History tells us why.
Galilee and Samaria in the northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria (think Kurdistan) in 722 BC. Most of the people of Israel were dispersed into exile and lost to history. Their place was mostly taken by other conquered exiles who joined with the remnant and formed the Samaritan people.
The southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians (think central Iraq) 136 years later in 586 BC. The Babylonians took most of the people of Judah, including their political and religious leaders, to Babylon where, as Psalm 137 has it, “We sat down and wept.” But Psalm 137 continues, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” But unlike the earlier refugees the later exiles in Babylon were not lost to history. Led by Ezekiel and other prophets they continued to gather to worship, to study, to maintain the community. They gathered to hear God’s word read, to think about it, to argue about it, to make it part of them, and then to pray – to praise, to intercede for others, and to petition for themselves. They kept the community together looking for the day when they could return to the land of their fathers. That day came in just 50 years with the Persian conquest of Babylon.
But the conflict grew bitter between those who returned purified by the experience of the exile and those who had stayed behind. Jews and Samaritans were neighbors who did not love one another, did not eat together, did not intermarry. So when Jesus and his disciples set out on two or three day hike along the summer high road from Galilee to Jerusalem, they were going through hostile territory. A few places fed and housed Jewish travelers, but most did not. The first place Jesus’ advance men came to turned them away.
None of us likes to be turned away, particularly when we on the road in strange territory. The natural reaction to this kind of rude and inhospitable behavior is anger. When we are badly treated we want revenge. Psalm 137 about the waters of Babylon shows that. “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy the one who pays you back for what you have done to us! Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock!”
“When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.”
To their anger and desire for revenge and destruction Jesus shows the fruit of the Spirit in makrothumi’a, patience, long suffering. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Jesus’ response reminds St. Luke of the cost of discipleship. “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Jesus and his disciples had left the comforts of home to be dependent on the kindness of strangers.
When Jesus called a disciple to follow him, the man said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” That might have meant right away, the funeral was that day, but it also might mean the man asked to wait until his father was dead and he received his inheritance. I’m as prone as anyone else to procrastination, finding excuses to put things off. Retirement reminds me, “What are we waiting for?” God calls us when he calls us; God doesn’t wait around.
But God does show us makrothumi’a. patience, longsuffering, long temper. He calls us to love and serve Jesus and he waits for us to do so with divine patience, long suffering, long temper, makrothumi’a.
And to those who have responded to his call God gives new life and his Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Amen.