‘travelling along the border’: a wee reflection on Luke 17.11–19

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17.11–19)

Reading this text this week, I was struck by v. 11, and particularly by the way that the NIV translates the verse using the word ‘border’ (the NJB uses the word ‘borderlands’), a word that recalls that while Jesus moves through life facing a particular direction, i.e., towards Jerusalem, he spends most of his time living along and between borders, in the borderlands of what we today call the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’, between borders of race, of gender, of acceptability, of confusion, of life and death. This is his ‘ordinary’ location and time. And even though the NT wastes little ink in describing what Jesus did when he wasn’t doing anything, his very poster of interruptability speaks something, I think, of how he conceived of ordinariness.

And then there are the interruptions themselves (most of the events recorded in the Gospels are simply interruptions!): in this case ten men who had leprosy:

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. (vv. 12–14).

So the show is over – we’re back to normal time again – a time constituted by sight and blindness, by that rare eye which sees the hand of God at work and gives thanks for what it sees, and by that which takes even the spectacular interruptions for granted, granting them no place to reassess the ordinary times between the moments in which the powers of heaven and of hell break in. For ordinary time is time for patient hope and faithful listening. It is time for seeing what is invisible.

Even before I came to Luke 17, I had already been thinking about the way that the Church has its own calendar, its own sense of time, a time inimitable because grounded in the one unique narrative of Jesus Christ and enfleshed in the body with which he has so incontrovertibly and enduringly bound himself, and which contrasts so powerfully with the civic metanarrative by which we are constantly tempted to have our lives constrained.

My friend Ross Langmead once wrote a song called ‘Lord, let me see’ (you can hear it here), wherein we are given a glimpse into what ‘ordinary time’ might be about, and he encourages us to see, to hear, to care, to learn and to love, not only in the ‘special’ or ‘rare’ moments which break into our otherwise ‘normal’ existence, but in the ordinary:

1. Lord, let me see, see more and more:
See the beauty of a person, not the colour of the skin,
See the faces of the homeless with no-one to take them in,
See discouragement because she’ll never win,
See the face of our Lord in the pain.
Lord, let me see.

2. Lord, let me hear, hear more and more:
Hear the sounds of great rejoicing, hear a person barely sigh,
Hear the ring of truth, and hollowness of those who live a lie,
Hear the wail of starving people who will die,
Hear the voice of our Lord in the cry.
Lord, let me hear.

3. Lord, let me care, care more and more:
Care for those who feel the loneliness, for those who have no say,
Care for friends who have no job and find it hard to face the day,
Care for those with whom we sing and work and pray;
And in care, Jesus Christ will be found.
Lord, let me care.

4. Lord, let me learn, learn more and more:
Learn that what I know is just a speck of what there is to know,
Learn from listening to my neighbour when I’d rather speak and go,
Learn that as we live in faith and trust we grow;
Learn to see, hear and care, with our Lord.
Lord, let me learn.

5. Lord, let me love, love more and more:
Love the loveless and the fragile, help them be what they can be,
Love the way that I would like them to be looking after me,
For to know you is to love them and be free;
And in love Jesus Christ will be found.
Lord, let me love.

A prayer by Rubem Alves seems a good way to bring this post to an end:

O God, just as the disciples heard Christ’s words of promise and began to eat the bread and drink the wine in the suffering of a long remembrance and in the joy of a hope, grant that we may hear your words, spoken in each thing of everyday affairs.

Coffee, on our table in the morning;
the simple gesture of opening a door to go out, free;
the shouts of children in the parks;
a familiar song, sung by an unfamiliar face;
a friendly tree that has not yet been cut down.

May simple things speak to us of your mercy, and tell us that life can be good. And may these sacramental gifts make us remember those who do not receive them,

who have their lives cut, every day, in the bread absent
from the table;
in the door of the prison, the hospital, the welfare home
that does not open;
in the sad child, feet without shoes, eyes without hope;
in the war hymns that glorify death;
in the deserts where once there was life.

Christ was also sacrificed. And may we learn that we participate in the saving sacrifice of Christ when we participate in the suffering of his little ones. Amen.



  1. I was just talking to a young friend a few moments ago who is trying to “grow in wisdom and in stature, and in divine and human favour”, and we were speaking about borders and our perceptions of them. Shortly afterward, I followed a link from the blog “Dead Flies and Perfume” to your blog and this article on “travelling along the border”. Thank you for the additional insights and wisdom!


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