“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.” [Luke 17:15-16]
Have you noticed how many of the customs we’ve grown up with have fallen by the wayside? One of the customs of which I am thinking is the custom of saying grace before each meal. I remember when I was growing up; we would say grace before every dinner. My father would say grace before every meal regardless of whether we were in the room or not. The reason I know this is because I walked in on him on several occasions as he was saying grace.
Once when I was in Santa Cruz, I was having dinner with friends. As we dined, two guys in full motorcycle attire sat down to dinner. Before they ate, I noticed that they both said grace. What is more, I would venture to guess that almost no one else had said grace besides these two Christian bikers.
Why have we reached the point now where saying grace seems like work or unnecessary or undesirable? What makes saying “thanks” seem so wrong to do?
In our Gospel lesson, we have the cure of the ten lepers. They all called to Christ by name:
“And they lifted up their voices, and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”
They all knew Christ and, what is more, they all believed in Him. There was no lack of faith. They absolutely knew that Christ could cure them. So, what happened?
And when he saw them, he said unto them, “Go shew yourselves unto the priests.” And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
When a Jewish person developed leprosy, he was shunned – by law. But if he was cured, he could not be accepted back into society until a priest saw and verified that he was clean. Once he was declared “clean,” he could resume life as he once had. This is why Jesus asked the lepers to show themselves to the priests. But what happened after this is quite interesting and quite extraordinary:
“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.”
Now, let us be clear. The others were cured; their cure did not end because they did not come back to thank Christ. I have no doubt that the others WERE thankful. Who would not be thankful to be cured of such a dreadful illness? BUT, they did not come back. So, what was Jesus’ reaction?
And Jesus answering said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” And he said unto him, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
We must ask ourselves, why is this story important? Why has this account entered our canon of Scripture? After all, these stories are included, first, because we believe them to be true, and second, because we believe them to be the word of God. So why is this important?
As you know, I am a third grade teacher. As a teacher, I have both positive and negative rewards. One of my positive rewards is to hand out pencils at the end of the week to the children of the table who racked up the most stars. Whether or not the child thanks me when I hand out the pencils, really does not matter to me. The child still will get the prize. But the child who thanks me instantly moves up in my estimation. And isn’t this the same for all of us?
Isn’t it true that each of us feels better when someone thanks us? It may be something they earned. It may be something that we give as a gift. But, by and large, unless we want anonymity, an honest expression of thanks means a lot to us. So why wouldn’t the same be true of God? After all, we are created in God’s image. Wouldn’t God feel the same as we if we thank Him?
This is the point of this story of the ten lepers. Notice, first, the thankful leper is a Samaritan. These are people shunned by the Jewish people as unclean. And this leper is doubly unclean for being a Samaritan AND a leper. So, God’s love extends beyond the holy, beyond the “clean.” His love extends to the dirty, the undesirable, the sinner, and the untouchables. Yet, God, like us, would like a little gratitude as well.
But we have become too sophisticated. In our society, we have become like the nine other lepers. Why offer thanks? God knows we are thankful. We do not need to go to church; He knows we believe. We do not need to say grace; God knows we are appreciative. Why praise God for our blessings; He knows we love Him. Isn’t that what we say to ourselves now? It’s time to wake up. Just knowing what we are suppose to feel is NOT good enough. And it is not good enough for several reasons.
First, by not acknowledging our blessings, it becomes easy to forget from where they come. And even worse, if we do not consciously think about it, it is easy to forget even that we are blessed. we need to publicly acknowledge our blessings to prevent this conscious belief from soon disappearing.
Second, words have power, and once we say that God has blessed us, the reality of the situation becomes much more powerful. It becomes imprinted into our being. But, until we say it, it still remains in the realm of possibilities – one that may or may NOT exist. It remains a possible fiction, which allows us to continue to believe that maybe WE orchestrated our own blessings. That is why publicly acknowledging our blessings is so important.
But third, we need to praise God! It pleases God to hear us publicly acknowledge our blessings and be thankful. Jesus’ response makes it clear. The other nine were not ingrates – at least they would probably not think of themselves as such. No, but they WERE more interested in their own well-being than thanking God. They were so interested in being declared clean that they forgot to go back and say thanks. And, I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we can each find an instance when we too did this.
But Jesus IS God. His reaction is God’s reaction. And Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” Jesus looked for the others to return and be thankful. He looked for them to praise God.
However, let us be careful. While each of us must learn to be thankful, openly and honestly, we must NOT become like the Pharisees. If we say grace in public, we must ask ourselves are we doing so because we want to thank God, to praise Him for our blessings, or are we doing it so that others will think we are “good” or “holy?” Christianity is a religion based on right or correct intention. If our intentions are good and honest, like the Samaritan leper, it is a joy to God. If our intentions are not honest, like the Pharisees, then our actions are ugly and black and anger God.
When God blesses us, He looks to see if we are truly thankful. And how we are thankful is as important as the fact that we may feel thankful. God wants us to return, to give glory to God, and to give thanks.
So this must be our goal. We must learn to be a thankful people. We must thank God, not only privately but publicly. We are to thank God with song and praise. We are to glorify God for our blessings. And we are to do it every day.
As we approach Thanksgiving, let us commit to become truly thankful people. Let the world know that we believe and that we feel no shame in praising our God. And we can do this with confidence, knowing that in the end, we are pleasing God while strengthening our faith.