That land between Samaria and Galilee is where we find Jesus today.
I can’t count the number of times I have preached the story of the healing of the lepers and always I have gone to the experience of the lepers — wondering at the one who was given eyes of faith and understanding enough so that he returned to give thanks.
I am not there today, though, although I may get there yet.
For now I find myself reflecting on where Jesus and his disciples travel now — through that in-between land. I wonder if the writer of Luke offers this detail as a mere literary device to ‘get Jesus from one place or another.’ Or I wonder if perhaps it is something more. I wonder if we meet up with Jesus in that particular place for a reason.
For the land between Samaria and Galilee is neither one or the other. By its very existence, it is a place where it is impossible to forget that the two had once been one. It is a location which causes one to remember how things were before long before the experience of exile left its mark on both kingdoms. It is a place where one might find oneself unsure of who belonged and who didn’t, where one might be uncertain, un-trusting, even a little fearful. It is a place where the accustomed rules might not apply — where one would not fully know one’s place. It is the place where Jesus travels today. It is a place where, it seems to me, if we are where we are called to be, you and I are traveling every day.
At least this is what I have found to be so for me of late. I suppose it should come as no surprise, thought, that in some ways I’d rather not. And it occurs to me, too, that while I find myself there as a pastor, most others find yourselves even more fully there. Whether your daily lives take you to schools or construction sites, office buildings or hospitals, you know what it is to walk that line between what you know and what you wonder about as you encounter this uncertain, often frightening in-between-ness in the lives of others — or in your own.
I was struck by this two days ago, this awareness that lately I am more and more in that strange land where Jesus traveled so long ago. I had just climbed into my car, having ended a conversation with two young men who, under other circumstances I might just cross the street to avoid. They were leaning against a car in the funeral home parking lot smoking. I had arrived early to pray with the family and was leaving as many of their friends were just arriving. I almost nodded and walked by. Instead, I paused to ask them how they were. They told me that they were the friends who had been asked to speak at the funeral of their lifelong friend the next day. Their friend, whose body lay inside, had died of a heroin overdose earlier in the week. If you paused long enough to look beyond their nonchalant stance, you could see their grief and fear.
What hit me two days ago was this was not a world I knew well. I grew up safe and protected and in a world entirely foreign to the anger and despair that really took the life of their young friend. Much of my life I have believed that if one just did the right thing one’s efforts would be rewarded — unlike the heartbroken mother whom I had just left who had done all that she knew to do and still today suffers an unspeakable loss.
And I have to say this. I don’t much like traveling in this land in between where words are hard to come by and healing seems so awfully elusive. Where the rules I’ve come to count on don’t quite seem to apply. And yet this is where God keeps calling me of late — to this same place where Jesus traveled when those desperate, hopeful lepers cried out for mercy.
It was just before we were to start the funeral on Friday morning that I bent down to speak to his grieving mother where she was seated in the front row. She had been thanking people for coming until a few moments before. I can’t remember what else I said to her, but I do remember telling her the room was full. And with tears flowing down her cheeks, she spoke her gratitude that they were there. That they had not left her alone in this in-between place of grief and confusion, anger and despairing hope.
I do not have Jesus’ power to cleanse and make whole as we hear in the remarkable, familiar story before us now. But I do have the power to step into those in-between places in people’s lives where one can no longer deny that once was whole is now broken and where the pain of their experience may be simply heartbreaking. Those places where the lepers in today’s Gospel once lived — cut off from all they knew and loved and took for granted. You and I can walk into those places and maybe, just maybe that is the beginning of cleansing, of healing, of restoration. And somehow even just that alone sometimes evokes the kind of gratitude we witness in today’s lesson.
It’s where I’m called more and more, it seems to me. I expect there was a time when fear alone would have kept me from choosing to walk into these in-between places: this land between Samaria and Galilee where the rules don’t apply and the words are hard to find and healing is elusive. I’m not entirely certain what has changed except most days I see no other choice. And yes, many days I still find myself surprised to be here. And yet, it is where Jesus traveled. So don ‘t you suppose that’s exactly where God’s people are called to travel, too?
- Does it make sense to you that we are called to travel “between Samaria and Galilee” as Jesus did? Why or why not?
- How would you describe that in-between place?
- How do you feel when you find yourself there? What has been your experience?
- How have you encountered Jesus in that place? In your life? In the lives of others?