The Anatomy of a Journey
Posted by Jill Carattini on March 10, 2017
The lections of the Christian celebration of Lent are full of God’s love of journeys: crossings from darkness into light, blindness to vision, the familiar to the unexpected, thirst to a place of provision. We find journeys beside still waters, through dark valleys and green pastures to a table prepared in the presence of enemies, pathways from Tyre through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee to a valley of dry bones, the tomb of a friend, and a well in Samaria.(1) Along the way, we are given constant reminders to keep watch and be alert. We hear in these stories that whatever journey on which we find ourselves, there are surely signs of God stirring, a kingdom emerging, the possibility of unexpected hope rising to life. “[T]he hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live,” says Jesus in John 5:25. God loves the very anatomy of a journey, not for the sake of perpetual motion, but for the sake of guidance and restoration the Spirit brings along the way.
The story of Philip in Acts chapter 8 formally introduces us to a word God exemplifies throughout the journey-stories of Scripture. Heeding the command of the Spirit to get up and head toward the south, Philip encounters an Ethiopian man on his way home from worship in Jerusalem. The man was reading from the book of Isaiah, so Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replies, “‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.”(2) The words chosen by the Ethiopian in this exchange are absolutely crucial. He invited Philip not to spell things out for him but to guide him. Eugene Peterson explains, “The Greek words for ‘explain’ and ‘guide’ share the same verbal root, ‘to lead,’ and have a common orientation in and concern for the [scriptural] text. But the explainer, the exegete, leads the meaning out of the text; the guide, the hodegete, leads you in the way (hodos) of the text.”(3) Philip was given an invitation to do far more than explain an ancient text. He was invited to join the journey, to climb into the chariot, spend some time on a similar path, and show the Ethiopian how to walk in it. Philip answered the invitation by coming nearer and sitting down beside the one who asked. How much more does God do so for humanity.
Throughout the historical accounts of God’s people on journeys great and small are the signs of a God who goes with us, who acts as our guide through the blinding experiences of sorrow and sin, death and disillusionment, who makes us lie down in green pastures, who leads us beside still waters, and who restores our souls. This is not a God who has sent a manual on how to walk through life successfully, occasionally offering from a distance an explanation of the text. On the contrary, it is a God who answers the journey of life as nothing other than Immanuel, as one who is with us, one who sends the Son to show us the way and the Spirit to guide us as we learn to walk in it. “For how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” asks Paul.(4) Far more than simply explaining the answers, God came near enough to physically show us, leaving us with one even greater who “guides us into all truth.”(5) The God who loves journeys is ever moving in such a way as to assure us that we never need walk alone.
In the same way that our lives repeat the twists and wanderings of the biblical narratives, our journeys in the days heading toward the celebration of Holy Week and Easter lead us beside quiet waters and through valleys of shadow and death. But we do not walk alone. Once again we are guided to the cross, taken by one who never deserved to be there yet who went willingly, lead by the lamb himself to the place where he took away the sins of the world. Peterson describes the gift of Christ as our guide: “It is the difference between the shopkeeper who sells maps of the wilderness and the person who goes with you into it, risking the dangers, helping to cook the meals, and sharing the weather.”(6) On the way toward the wilderness of holy week, might we keep alert, stay awake, and treasure the presence of one who leads us to the great and unexpected hope of the kindness of God.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Genesis 12:1-4a, John 4:5-42, Genesis 44:1-17, Psalm 23:1-6, John 9:1-41, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 11:1-45, Ezekiel 37:1-14, etc.
(2) Acts 8:31.
(3) Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 128.
(4) Romans 10:14.
(5) John 16:12.
(6) Peterson, 128.