51When the days for [Jesus to be] taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, 52and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, 53but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 55Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56and they journeyed to another village.
Inhospitality of the Samaritans: When Jesus decides to end his ministry in Galilee and to travel to Jerusalem, he sends an “advance party” who are refused hospitality by the Samaritans. The disciples quite typically do not hesitate to wish destruction upon the Samaritans. This “bad blood” between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted in history.
The united kingdom of Israel under King David broke up after Solomon into the northern kingdom (10 tribes) and southern kingdom (2 tribes under the Davidic dynasty). Around 722 BC, Sargon the Assyrian defeated the northern kingdom, deported most of the native population, and resettled other peoples in their place in Samaria. The aliens intermarried with the Israelites and the descendants were looked down as impure by the Judeans of the south.
The Judeans themselves were deported to Babylon with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. When they were permitted to return by the Persians in 537 BC, they rejected the Samaritan offer to help in rebuilding the temple (Ez 4:1-14).
After the death of Alexander the Great in 523 BC, the Samaritans, with the help of the Greek rulers, built on Mount Gerizim a temple to Yahweh that never attained equal status with the temple of Jerusalem. Then in 128 BC, the Jewish priest-king John Hyrcanus razed the temple to the ground.
This animosity continued even at the time of Jesus and the early Christians. Between 6-9 AD, the Samaritans strewed bones throughout the Jerusalem temple and so disrupted the Passover that year. In 51 AD, the Samaritans in the village of Gema murdered a Jewish Passover pilgrim. In retaliation, the Jews massacred and burned the entire village.
Jesus rejects the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” mentality of the Jews which is shared even by his disciples. He takes another road to Jerusalem. Jesus’ sensitivity to the hated Samaritans is further shown in the parable of the “good” Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) and in the story of the ten lepers cleansed by Jesus (Lk 17:15).