Twenty Eighth Sunday of the Year
In Luke Jesus is forever crossing borders and seen in liminal places. On his way to Jerusalem to meet his fate, Jesus is at the border ‘between Samaria and Galilee’ where there is nothing, and people with nowhere to go gather. It is here that Jesus meets people. Crossing boundaries suggests that Jesus is changing places with outcasts and victims of fear and prejudice, untouchables, prisoners, and abused people. These outsiders, like the 10th leper, the Samaritan, recognise what insiders miss. Do we examine our borders, neighbourhoods, social hierarchies, racial and class divisions to realise how much we may limit our encounters with God. Fear of differences deprives us from expanding our margins to meet new neighbours.
Today’s readings take place in marginal settings: Naaman is at the dirty Jordan River, Paul is in prison, and Jesus at the Samaria and Judea border. In such marginal places, people are freed in unexpected and extravagant ways from the usual conventions to receive God's faithfulness. So, these are not God-forsaken places but sacred places where God is present and at work - God amongst foreigners/outsiders/people with double stigmas, and how they respond to God.
We live in a time when people want to put up walls on our various literal and figurative borders. These borders are supposed to determine who is on the right side and who isn’t. We don’t want to mix things up, and we’d rather not live in a liminal state. There are the obvious borders that are being erected to prevent asylum seekers entering various countries. The 2019 Synod on the Amazon showed how church leaders and others have tried to prevent the voices of people colonised by foreign powers and the church, continue to be savaged by corporations and farmers for the sake of progress. We have seen Pope Francis put himself in a liminal position for the sake of mercy but is condemned by people whose interests are threatened. He is telling us repeatedly that God is found amongst people who are consigned to the margins, silenced, and forgotten. And Jesus has always been at the borders, at the threshold. It seems to be where Christ is found. Being at the threshold or the frontier is something Jesus was familiar with. Each stop along the way to Jerusalem is part of a process, a process that brings him closer and closer to a moment when everything will change. What about us? Where are we?
The gospel’s scandalous inclusivity confronts us again. We can easily draw lines around people – those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’ or to be kept apart. We do it in our minds and very much on Facebook. Politicians automatically categorise people in need of social security as drug addicts or pushers, alcoholics, or lazy and thus not worthy of assistance. But the gospel is about liberation, about ‘outsiders’ being drawn by God’s love into a new embrace, included and at home with God and God’s people.
Jesus’ journey reveals the strength of God’s compassionate love - and how various people respond. People have different ways of responding to God’s compassion. It is manifested in Jesus and offered to people who are marginalised, hurting or suffering. He is the heart of God ready to go to out of the way places and manifests God’s passion for the lost, the marginalised, the abused, the excluded, and the stranger. Always crossing boarders, breaking the rules, and messing with the order of things, Jesus meets with tax collectors and sinners, touches lepers, greets Samaritans, enters women’s homes. The Word cannot be chained by borders, categories, or convention. Even death itself cannot chain Jesus. He is dangerous today in our uncertain as he was in Judea. What if Jesus followers all started to welcome foreigners, eat with sinners.
Today’s gospel story is less about the miraculous cure than people being restored to the community, to relationship, people notice and listened to. The lone figure who turned back did so when he saw what had happened. Something has changed. He saw something different. As a Samaritan, he would have known a lot about borders. He knows what it means to be on the other side of a border, and now he knows that things have dramatically changed. He knows what it means to be on the outside, and now he is crossing into a new land where he is whole. The other nine were returning to the old world. They are now ’in’ where others are still ’out’. It is the old world of separations, of judgment, exclusion, and tit for tat. We don’t know why the other nine don’t return to see Jesus. For the Samaritan, his new way of living is grounded on having experienced God’s love for him, having recognised that God is active in the ‘nowhere’ places of our world, and that he now also has a love he can share with others. It is not business as usual for him. This happens to people who may have been involved in a car accident, or survived cancer or suffered a coronary. Some people go back to business as usual, and others see the experience as another opportunity to live life to the full and to serve. It comes out of an awareness that life is something gracious and given an awareness that we have creative energies to use for the good of others. Though these situations are not the experience of all, we do not have to wait for such experiences to realise that that our time is limited and the only time we have is ‘the now’. The ‘present moment’ is all we have; it is the ‘sacrament’, the moment of encounter with the Sacred in our lives.
As conflict threatens the peace and survival of our planet, religious exclusivity and finger-pointing is not just immature but very dangerous. Jesus comes into this ‘nowhere land’ challenging us as he crossed all sorts of lines to draw circles around everyone. All are loved and accepted by God. Where many tend to define ourselves according to nationality, race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, educational level, language and so much more and justify injustice, discrimination, and stereotyping, we are called to make outsiders into insiders and embrace people not easy to love. This is the world changing gospel of nonviolence. Today’s stories are deliberately subversive. The people represented as despised and not respectable become models of faith. This is the faith story that lives itself out in every generation.
We hear Jesus’ challenging words in our gatherings to be healed – of our pride, selfishness, anger, apathy, laziness and deceit, sense of exceptionalism, grandiosity, sense of exceptionalism, grandiosity, the need to build walls and barriers. If we are to have any prophetic voice, Christ’s radical inclusivity must be embraced daily. It is not just about prayers prayed or theological ideas taught but having open arms to others, being indiscriminate who we serve, love, give to, include, and bless. The heroes in the readings, are not Naaman or Elisha but nameless nobodies. It was an audacious Israeli servant girl and the Samaritan leper, who came back - people whose gender and/or social status made them invisible. For Luke the heroes are usually of the wrong kind. The point is that God’s healing and mercy is available regardless of ethnicity or social status. The story of Naaman shows the importance of listening to people our life, even those we doubt would have anything important to say. They just might be more insightful and know more than us.