North Americans take for granted the ability to cross borders with ease. Customs agents wave us through without a second look, while other travelers get scrutinized. Nationality, skin color, gender and religion can complicate travel.
Geography matters — to us and to people in Jesus’ day. According to Luke 17:11, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” Christ was on the borderlands.
Mennonite Central Committee -offers a learning tour to the U.S.–Mexico border region. The tour has been meaningful for many people, and I have wanted to go myself. The region is fraught with contention. Undocumented people risk everything — even death — to cross the border to find a better life.
The United States and Mexico have fought over the borderlands. When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the border as we know it today began to take shape. My family on my father’s side has lived in the Texas-Mexico region for generations and knows firsthand the tension over the border.
Chicana writer and activist Gloria Anzaldúa says the borderlands are “a psychic, social and cultural terrain that we inhabit and that inhabits all of us.”
In Luke 17, the borderland between Samaria and Galilee is a holy place, a place where a miracle happens. It’s not dangerous or contentious. It’s sacred ground. Jesus is a Messiah who transcends borders.
On this sacred ground, the 10 men with a skin disease in Luke 17 participate in their own healing. Theologian Francisco J. Garcia reminds us that these men are “one” of three characters in Luke’s Gospel who call the Messiah “Jesus.” They also call him “Master,” a name that usually only the disciples used. The 10 men didn’t know Jesus would happen upon them, but they knew immediately who he was.
Luke leaves no doubt that Jesus truly sees and hears these men. Have you ever felt unseen and unheard? Or, on the positive side: How does it feel to encounter someone who really sees and listens?
When Jesus heals these men — who’ve been cast out to the margins, relegated to the borderlands — their experience of being seen and heard is part of their healing. And they participate in this healing by going to the priest, as Jesus tells them to.
LUke points out that the only one of the 10 who comes back to thank Jesus is a Samaritan. In an odd turn of phrase, Luke says, “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan” (verse 16).
“And”? I think Luke is saying, “And, get this: This guy was a Samaritan!”
Samaritans were considered foreigners, unclean, not worthy to be interacted with. The Gospel writers turn this low social status on its head by featuring stories like the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan woman at the well and this thankful man.
Luke considers it important for us to know that the man who came back to thank Jesus was a stranger and a foreigner. He likely understood more than anyone else what it felt like to be marginalized and reviled — not only for his sickness but for where he came from.
As he often did, Jesus challenges assumptions of who is and isn’t worthy. He reminds the Samaritan man that he has been an agent in his own healing: “Your faith has made you well” (verse 19).
How does this story ring true for us? Who is “worthy” of healing in our culture? Who do we claim isn’t worthy?
Where do we think God should be at work, and where is God actually at work? Do we limit where and when divine encounters happen?
We know that faith and love in action often happens in community. But who do we let into our community? Sometimes we need to be reminded that community happens beyond the walls of a church building.
As it did for Jesus on the way to -Jerusalem, ministry today happens on the way — when we’re heading off with a plan to do something completely different. We are a people on the way, and we don’t know who we’ll encounter. Are we ready to receive whoever we meet?