It was such a missed opportunity! And they didn’t even know that they had lost out!
Jesus and his disciples are heading to Jerusalem for the festival. Jesus knows that he will die. There is no means of transport; they have to walk the whole way. The most direct route was through Samaria – that was 90 miles – but it was mountainous, and there was great hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. The safer, more comfortable routes were around 120 miles – so at least one extra day of walking. Whichever way you went, the journey took several days, and you had to stop over in places along the way.
They plan to stop at a certain village in Samaria. Jesus’ own attitude to the people of Samaria was quite different from the standard view of Jews of his era. He used them as an example of good-neighbourliness in the story of the Good Samaritan. He had a positive encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The good news about the kingdom of God was for the Samaritans as well.
A stop over wouldn’t be like shutting yourself up in a room of the local Premier Inn. Jesus and the whole party of disciples would have been welcomed by everyone in the village. There would have been a meal, lots of conversation, a story or two, perhaps a healing. Jesus would have come alongside the villagers, and he would have brought them something new: a new way of seeing the world, a new understanding of God, a door into the kingdom of heaven.
But it wasn’t to be. The villagers turn them away and refuse hospitality. Jesus and the disciples are not welcome. They have to walk a few more miles at the end of an already long day to get to the next village.
James and John are quite put out. They want to call down fire from heaven to wipe the village out, but Jesus says no. You can’t just destroy everyone who doesn’t welcome you.
But the villagers have missed out. Jesus was so close, passing by on the road, and they didn’t get to meet him. They didn’t get to hear the good news; they slammed the door shut to the kingdom of God.
Now it has to be said that no one from that village would think later on: “what a pity that we didn’t welcome that guy Jesus – I would really have liked to heard what he had to say. And it’s too late now!” The moment was lost, and they didn’t even know it.
But it’s worth thinking about out own missed opportunities to meet Jesus. Maybe we were invited to take part in a group or attend a course or event. And there may well have been good reasons why we couldn’t go just then. Maybe we had an instinct that we should do something or go somewhere, but we didn’t do it and we didn’t go, because we were busy, because there were other things that seemed to take priority at the time. And who knows what might have been, if we had followed the instinct.
A missed opportunity maybe that we didn’t give a person full attention, because Jesus is present in every person we meet. There is a lovely Russian story of an older monk telling a younger one: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?’”
Maybe when we miss the opportunity to fully engage with another person, that is a missed opportunity to meet Jesus.
The miracle of grace is that Jesus will give us other opportunities. Jesus will pass along the road again, in some form. Another stranger will turn up. We will get other invitations to events that help us to get to know Jesus better. The Holy Spirit will prompt us when there is something that needs doing.
Take the opportunities, but if you miss them, turn again to the Lord and start again. Be alert. Look for the opportunities, and you will find them. Whether we take the direct route, taking every opportunity, or the highways and byways catching up with where we need to be, the Holy Spirit will get us there in the end.