A Scorched Earth Policy Is Not the Best Approach

When I have a disagreement with someone, I usually love to be right. If we’re talking about something horrible, like the impact of a car accident, and I take the worst case scenario, then I certainly hope I’m wrong. I desperately want to be wrong in that situation. Or if a relative is trying to determine what’s going on with his or her health and I suspect cancer, I want to be wrong. But putting exceptions like these aside, I want to be right. We all do. We don’t like being wrong. The question each of us needs to ask is, “How do I handle being right?”

  When the days drew near for him to be taken 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 preparations for him. But the people did 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 tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.  – Luke 9:51-56, ESV

Jesus wanted to enter a village, but the residents there didn’t want to let Him. A lot probably had to do with the racial tensions between the Samaritans and the Jews, which is probably why we are told it was a village of Samaritans. The villagers were wrong to refuse Jesus’ entrance. They were refusing entrance to the Son of God. James and John, incensed by this, asked Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven. Likely, racial tensions had something to do with James and John’s response as well. But we’re told Jesus rebuked the two. There would be no fire from heaven. The group simply moved on to the next village.

James and John wanted to take a scorched earth policy, literally. However, Jesus stopped that nonsense. It wasn’t that the two were wrong in their position that the village had no right to stop Jesus. Instead, they were wrong in their response. In other words, they failed the question, “How do I handle being right?” It’s about more than being right. It’s about doing the right thing, even in the face of someone else being wrong or someone else doing the wrong thing. That’s what Jesus teaches us here.

For a lot of us, when we’re wronged or when we’re in a disagreement and the other person is wrong, we want to see some consequences. We want to have immediate results. Whether that be they “get what’s coming to them,” or the other person apologizing and admitting his or her mistake, we want to see recognition of our “rightness.” If anyone should have insisted upon this, that person should have been the Son of God. He didn’t. He took a substantially more graceful approach, didn’t He? When He had every right to bring the fire down, He chose to move on and leave this village in peace. There was more at stake than just one village’s poor choice.

How about for us? Usually when there’s a disagreement or an issue, there is more at stake than what is immediately before us. There are relationships to consider. They are future opportunities to share the Gospel to remember. There is our example to those who might be watching. Therefore, while we may be right, we must consider our approach and our attitude. Sometimes the best thing to do is to accept the fact that it’s a bad situation and move on. This is what Jesus did in the Scripture for today. But in other cases we know Jesus confronted the issue head on, such as at the Temple with the moneychangers. The Holy Spirit can and will guide us to the right choice, but we must be open to not acting as we might want to and instead acting in the best interest of God, willingly choosing to forgo any personal vindication for the future opportunities that we can’t yet see.


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