Jesus is walking southward with his disciples to Jerusalem, a journey he would have made many times… but probably not on this particular route.[i] On this occasion they are walking from Nazareth – which is up north in the Galilee region – through the region of Samaria to get to Jerusalem. It’s 90 miles straight, following the hypotenuse of the triangle. However most Jews, walking from Galilee to Jerusalem, would set off east on a right angle, crossing over the Jordan River, then following the river southwards until cutting back westward over the river to go up to Jerusalem. This turned the 90-mile direct trek-on-foot into 120 miles; however it avoided Samaria.
Samaria was in the center of Palestine, 40 miles from north to south, and 35 miles from east to west. The Jews hated the Samaritans; the Samaritans hated the Jews. The Samaritans were colonists established by the Assyrians in the territory of Israel. The Samaritans claimed that they, too, were among God’s chosen people. But the Samaritans did not go up to Jerusalem to worship; they went up to Mount Gerizim in Samaria. There was “bad blood,” sometimes vitriol racism, between these two groups. Samaritans stayed amongst themselves. Jews taking a shortcut through Samaria were easy targets for hatred, sometimes for vindictive robbery.
Our Gospel lesson this evening tells of Jesus’ sending messengers on ahead to plan for his group’s entering Samaria. What were these messengers actually doing? They were scouting the lay-of-the-land, looking for hospitable Samaritan merchants and innkeepers who might receive the group kindly, and telling Samaritan villagers of Jesus’ peaceful intentions. The messengers were preparing the way. It did not work. The Samaritan villagers would not receive Jesus, which is really no surprise. To them, Jesus was just one more Jew with an agenda. Jesus’ disciples were absolutely indignant. They wanted fire from heaven to annihilate these damn Samaritans. But Jesus wouldn’t hear it, and his group moves on.
We, of course, have the benefit of hindsight. We know that the circle of Jesus’ love did eventually include Samaritans. Three of the more poignant stores remembered in the Gospels are about Jesus and Samaritans. For example, Jesus has an amazing interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well.[ii] Jesus heals 10 lepers who then set off. Only one returns to thank Jesus. Who is he? A Samaritan.[iii] And Jesus tells a story about a man in Samaria who, in such a selfless, generous, kind way helps a traveler who has been beaten and robbws along the roadside. This helper is the emblem of God’s tender loving mercy for everyone. Who is he? Surprise! He’s not a fellow Jew; he’s a Samaritan.[iv] The Samaritans became Jesus’ stars.
So back to the Gospel lesson, which comes from an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is not received in a Samaritan village, and he moves on without recrimination. The fullness of time has not yet come to these people.[v] What we witness in Jesus is patience. The English word “patience,” from the Latin patientia – from which comes our word, passion – means, literally, a “quality of suffering.” And suffering you are as you wait patiently, hopefully, sometimes desperately for something you want. Patience, which comes from passion, also means dependence, exposure, being no longer in control of one’s own situation, being the object of what is done. I’m drawing here on the insight of W. H. Vanstone in his Stature of Waiting.[vi] Passion – Christ’s passion – is about suffering. Passion – Christ’s passion – is also about love. When we love another person, “it is in fact ourselves and our own destiny that we place in [their] hands.” Vanstone says that “when we love we hand ourselves over to receive from another our own triumph or our own tragedy.”[vii]
This is where Jesus ends up, when he faces the cross. His passion – that is, his love and his suffering – meld as he is handed over to a power he cannot control. He must have learned this – about love and suffering – along the way. Which is why he didn’t rain fire and brimstone upon the Samaritans who would not receive him. Not then. Not on the day of that walk through Samaria. Jesus abandoned himself to the divine providence. God – the God whom Jesus called “Father” – would make of Jesus’ life what God chose, as God chose, when God chose. Jesus and we are simply called to be available.
Living life patiently is very difficult to do. But living life patiently is not as difficult as not living life patiently. There are so many variables in life over which we have little, if any, control. Rather than seeing life as a series of obstacles, frustrations, impenetrable questions, what Saint Paul called “kicking against the goads,” instead to see life as an endless stream of invitations to cooperate with whatever God is up to. To abandon ourselves – who we are, and what we have, and what we hold dear – into God’s hands and in God’s time. Letting God be God on God’s terms.
I’m not suggesting that living life patiently is the only way to navigate life. Some situations in life require aggressive responses. I am saying, though, that patience really needs to be an active word in our soul’s vocabulary. When someone is not acquiescing, when something is not being resolved, when the door isn’t being opened, when the answer isn’t forthcoming, when we have lost any sense of controlling our circumstances, to then see the invitation for patience: this melding of love and suffering, about which Jesus is well apprised. The invitation, then, is to wait. Quoting psalm 130, “to wait, like watchmen waiting for the morning.” It’s the dawning of great expectation that we’re being called to participate, to co-operate in something God is up to: God, who has all the patience in the world.
[i]Every devout male Jew was to journey at least three times a year to Jerusalem: “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the Lord God of Israel” (Exodus 34: 23). We know for certain that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, the Feast of Booths (John 7:2), the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-39), and at least three times for the Passover (John 2:13-22; 5:1-47; John 12:12-19), and likely other pilgrimages.
[iv]John 4:1-42; Luke 10:25-37, 17:16; Acts of the Apostles 8:25.
[v]A riff on Galatians 4:4-7.
[vi]W. H. Vanstone, The Stature of Waiting (Morehouse Publishing, 2006).
[vii]Vanstone, p. 96.
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