Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quote of the Day: Luke 9:51-6

For today, one text I'm toying with for the New Testament Mysticism Seminar:

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. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 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 he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-6; RSV)
I don't know how many times I must have just read over this passage without stopping to realize that James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Sons of "Thunder"), say that they can bring down fire from heaven..."just as Elijah did" (as the most common ancient variant on this passage says). In the synoptic tradition, this passage has NO parallel. Later variants and commentators, such as Tertullian, subtly shifted the passage to say that Jesus, rather than James and John, could bring down fire from heaven. Why, I might ask? Just an issue of memory? Or is there something troubling for a disciple to have such destructive power? But there is a proliferation of miracles performed by disciples/apostles after Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven--in the canonical and apocryphal acts of the apostles. So, is there a particular theological position at stake, perhaps, that when Jesus walked around, he would perform the miracles, and then, after the resurrection, that power passed on to the disciples--in Acts 2 for Luke-Acts perspective, or when Jesus breathed on his disciples at the end of John? If so, did this Lukan passage threaten this? Or does it reflect or nod toward a different position in which the disciples/apostles always had such power--or, the Sons of Zebedee, at least?

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