10th Oct, 2010

The Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity

by The Rev. Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
II Timothy 2:8-15
St. Lukc 17:11-19

In the account we have today from St Luke’s Gospel all the action of the healing of ten lepers takes place in a ‘liminal space.’ St Luke tells us that this event takes place while Christ is in the region between Samaria and Galilee, on his way up to Jerusalem. So St Luke drops this story right into the midst of the demilitarized zone: we are neither in Samaria, nor are we in Galilee and it is going to be quite some time until we reach the holy city. For now, as we witness healing and the coming of the Kingdom, we are in no-man’s-land.

That wonderfully evocative word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limnus which means “doorway.” When we are under the limnus, we aren’t in THIS room, and we aren’t in THAT room, but rather we are in transition, we are on the way, we are participating in a lifelong pilgrimage that may take us far and wide before we reach our true home and rest in the heart of God. For now, we are betwixt and between. St Luke, throughout his Gospel, is at great pains to emphasize that the Christian story of discipleship, that with which you and I are engaged, this wonderfully evocative story of healing and wholeness, is all about making journeys, faring well.

There is also sometimes danger with liminality, being at the margins, zwischen den Zeiten, between the times, between the epochs, in the moment – because of the uncertain nature of being beneath the limnus and that can produce much anxiety and stress. The margin, the limnus may be a wilderness.

There are countless moments in people’s lives where we know this to be true in our very bones. People transition from one school to another, from teenage years to university and young adult years, perhaps far from home, there is moving to a new place of work, and there is transitioning from employment to unemployment, or one job to another job, moving from good healthy middle age to retirement and wondering what health issues we may face in our declining years, or what health issues our partner may experience.

We are moving somewhere else, but we are not there yet. Maybe we can’t wait to get there and we are holding our breath with excited anticipation. But it may be that we are dreading it and are horrified by all those unfamiliar sights and sounds.

My guess is that our British ancestors who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean by ship far away from religious intolerance back in the Old World understood this liminality keenly. The voyage that they undertook wasn’t the eight hours of pleasurable entertainment on Virgin Atlantic, soothed by music and wonderful air crew. Their journey took months. There were rocky seas, hunger, uncertainty, disease- wondering if they might ever lay eyes on dry land again. And then, the New World.

As much as liminal periods are opportunities for danger, they are also opportunities for growth. Liminal periods are places where we can grow, where we can ‘find ourselves,’ and where we can orient our lives to shape what the next room we’ll inhabit will look like.

Where are we going? Where is God taking our lives? When we’re beneath the limnus we can take the opportunity to find out. To ask God. To make it happen.

The liminal story of “the healing of the ten lepers” (or sometimes known as “the one grateful leper”) is a story which explores the concepts of the mercy, gratitude, healing, and faith. Ten people, beloved of God, are in distress and anguish looking for a miracle. Danger and uncertainty abound. They may remain sick and ostracized forever. But, the situation is also one where incredible potential resides. There is the hope of healing, and the promise of gratitude.

There is tension between those two potential outcomes.

And in the end, healing abounds. Gratitude… not so much.

When you come through the wilderness, the yoke of slavery, the impending reality of graduation, marriage, or retirement – the potential for the grace of God is rich. And the potential for us to miss the holy significance of it is also rife.

May God give us the grace and patience to stop and pray, to wait and to be encouraged.


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