Jesus in the spaces between us

In seeking to understand Luke 17:11-19, The Rev. John Petty invites our attention to verse 11: "Now it happened as Jesus went to Jerusalem that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee."

"Three place names are mentioned in the first sentence: Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee. Jerusalem is where he is headed. Galilee is where his mission began. Now, heading south, he is "in the midst" of Samaria and Galilee. The phrase is dia meson. The sense of the expression seems to mean 'on the boundary.'

"Here is another case where the symbolic truth is deeper than the literal one. Jesus was--and is--on the 'boundary,' and that is true in many ways. (Bonhoeffer once said that Jesus meets us both on the boundary of our lives and also at the center.)

"The specific 'boundary' in this case is the ethnic prejudice which existed between Galileans and Samaritans. [Most] Jews of the time considered Samaritans to be [mixed race] and heretics--[mixed race] because they'd intermarried with Assyrians and others, and heretics because they did not bend the knee to the Temple in Jerusalem.

"For his part, Jesus always portrays Samaritans in a positive way. That is true in all four gospels, and especially in Luke.

"Jesus seemed to be making headway in his message of reconciliation. People forget: Jesus was popular. He was beloved by people. Apparently, many thought his message of reconciliation between Jews and Samaritans to be a great thing. They had much in common with Samaritans, after all. They were both poor and both were oppressed by a corrupt religion [whose elite leaders collaborated with the Roman Empire's military occupation] and a brutal government [Rome].

"One suspects the Galileans, after their initial shock at the idea of Samaritans as positive examples, began to see that the reason they thought the Samaritans were 'outsiders' in the first place was because the Jerusalem elite had named them so, a Jerusalem elite which also considered the Galileans themselves to be 'outsiders,' albeit in a different way.

"The Galileans were not ethnic or religious outsiders, like the Samaritans. The Galileans were economic and cultural outsiders, looked down upon by cosmopolitan Jerusalem as hicks and rubes from the sticks. The Galileans, instructed by Jesus, began to think, "Say, maybe we have more in common with Samaritans than we thought."

The Spirit of God works in mysterious ways. As it happens, this week I am reading Mary L. Trump's 2021 book, The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal. Her illumination of the original violences and traumatic divisions in our country, historically and currently, helps me to imagine Jesus being present in the places of separation and injustice among us, inviting us to understand, and enter into, his love for us all.

For example, as Mary Trump demonstrates, in our society, "working class whites....have been tricked into voting against their own self -interest by a ruling class that has convinced them that allegiance to their whiteness is more valuable than health care or any other social programs that would lift them up. Superiority over Blacks, they have been told, just as the white laborers in the colonies were told, is more important than financial gain. Joining forces with the wealthy and powerful would be more beneficial symbolically, if not materially, than joining forces with the Black working class. Of course, none of that is true, but it's a compelling narrative, so much easier than facing the truth" that our leaders have lied to us and used us.(p. 169)

Here, too, as in the first century, Jesus stands in the spaces between us, loving us all, asking us to love each other, and praying that we will be able to see and to act in new ways, in God's ways. What will we do?


The Rev. John Petty's full commentary on this passage and other gospel texts can be found at his website via