Let’s think chronologically: Jesus began his ministry when he was thirty years old. Like so many others, he joined the throngs of people who flocked to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist. Then he went out into the wilderness to fast and pray for forty days. Then he returned to Galilee to share the Good News of God’s love, heal the sick and proclaim the dawning of God’s great kingdom on earth.
Now, let’s think geographically. Galilee is the region in what is now northern Israel that surrounds the Sea of Galilee. It includes Jesus’ home town of Nazareth and his adopted home of Capernaum. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea, to the north is the region of Tyre and Sidon, or what is now Lebanon and Syria.
According to scripture, Jesus traveled around the Galilee, perhaps up to three years. And then he took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain – presumably, Mt. Herman – where he was met by Moses and Elijah and transfigured in their sight. His appearance became as white as the sun. When he came down from the mountain, Luke says, ” … he intently set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)
His Galilean ministry was complete; his journey to the holy city and the temple had begun. And this is the significance of the Lenten season for us today: If we’re willing, it’s an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem and, in so doing, experience the promise of resurrection and new life.
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The journey begins in Galilee and it leads to Jerusalem. Basically, there are two ways to get there – one is the easy way following the Jordan Valley. It’s relatively smooth and flat all the way to Jericho. There’s plenty of water to drink and green grass to camp out overnight. The only hard trek is the long climb from Jericho to Jerusalem.
The other way is through the mountains, where the pathway is often steep and difficult, and there’s not much water along the way or cushy places to spend the night. What’s more, it goes through Samaria.
So, which way do you think Jesus went? Which route did he take? Here’s what Luke says:
“It came to pass, when the days were near that he should be taken up,
brhe intently set his face to go to Jerusalem,
brand sent messengers before his face.
brThey went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans,
brso as to prepare for him” (Luke 9:51-52).
Now, let’s think relationally: Just who were the Samaritans? Historically, they were a branch of Judaism that claimed to be descendents of the tribe of Joseph. But they fell out of favor with mainstream Judaism over a claim that they had defiled the Temple. The upshot of it all was that, in Jesus day, no self-respecting Jew would have anything at all to do with a Samaritan.
Yet, Jesus healed a Samaritan leper, shared a cup of cold water with a Samaritan woman and used a Samaritan traveler as an example of what it means to be a good neighbor. To this day, we use the phrase, “being a Good Samaritan.”
So, now on his final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, how does Jesus get there, but by going straight through Samaria.
And that’s what I’d to invite you to consider today: Where is Samaria on your map? Who are the folks you have the hardest time getting along with? Where do your deep-seated prejudices lie?
Do you hear what I’m saying? The Lenten journey is no walk in the park. It takes you through the heart of Samaria and has you rub shoulders with folks you’re not likely to see anywhere else except in the company of Jesus.
If you’re willing to follow his lead, the promise is two-fold: One, Jesus will be with you every step of the way. As a colleague of mine used to say:
“Christ stands behind us to encourage us,
brbeside us to befriend us,
brabove us to watch over us,
brwithin us to give us the gifts of faith, hope and love,
brand always before us to show us the way.”
And two, if you’ll let him, Jesus will give you a spirit of peace and reconciliation. He’ll make you one with people of other races, other nationalities, other faiths. In Christ there is perfect unity so that to be in Christ is to be at one with all of God’s creation.
That’s the promise for all who are willing to take the Lenten journey: Jesus will be with you; he will make you one with himself and the world around you.
This is Ash Wednesday. In a word, that means the Lenten journey begins today. Are you willing to take the first step?
Let us pray: Gracious God, give us strength to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Help us lay aside old prejudices and overcome longstanding barriers that separate us one from another. Make us one in Spirit and one in the Lord, so that, as our Lenten journey reaches its final destination on Mount Calvary, we may know that, in dying to self we have been raised to new and everlasting life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Copyright 2007, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.