i am the god of hell fire and i bring you...

When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9.51-55)

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but I've only just noticed the connection of today's reading to Pentecost. There, the fire is a symbol of God's spirit, empowering Jesus' friends and followers. But James and John's fire is more of the destructive kind.

Many of us readers of the Bible are far from Samaria. We forget that 'Samaritan' has not yet come to mean, 'A kind stranger.' It means 'enemy.' James and John are angry at their political and religious rivals. They are offended by the lack of common courtesy shown them. And they are hot, tired and dusty. Burning hell-fire is very much in their thoughts.

Did it bother you too that the reflex of bystanders at Glasgow Airport was to hit, not help, a man on fire? Jesus does not let James and John divide the world into us and them. We too must resist giving ourselves that luxury. In demonstrations at the start of the Iraq, I saw a placard asking, Who would Jesus bomb? There is no answer because the answer is no-one. So why do we?

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