You do not know of what spirit you are.
The Son of Man came not to destroy lives,
but to save them.
Luke 9: 55-56
Catholics will not hear these words when they listen to today’s Gospel, Luke 9: 51-62. These words are found in various manuscripts and have largely been excluded from most mainstream Bibles, though they are found in a footnote in the Jerusalem Bible as well as in the text in the Douay-Rheims translation.
Yet I think they should be heard, loud and clear.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem and has to pass through Samaritan territory – a land of people despised by many. He sends some folks ahead to prepare to visit a Samaritan village, but they are rejected.
James and John , the “Sons of Thunder” object and suggest that they call down fire against them to consume them. Various manuscripts add, “as Elijah did.” They want a punitive God, who strikes down the foe.
Does this sound a bit like our situation today where some are so willing to condemn others to hell or other punishment?
But Jesus rebukes them. At this point the other manuscripts add, “You do not know of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy live, but to save them.”
I first noted the significance of these phrases about 1980 when the country was debating issues of the use of nuclear weapons. Today, the use of terror tactics and killer drones suggests that the phrases are still relevant.
It is also relevant in light of the divisiveness and harsh language used in political and religious discourse – what America editor Fr. Matt Malone, S,J., called “the toxin of ideological partisanship.”
But this is not not just about political and military policies. It is about our spirits.
Are we people who seek to conquer our enemies by destroying them? Or do we respond as Jesus does, who calls us to “love our enemies”?