Luke 17:11-19
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 31, 2021

How gratitude starts out is not how it ends up when fully developed.  Gratitude then becomes, not just something we feel or say, but something we do.

Jesus had just begun a new leg of His journey to Jerusalem, where He had to go in order to suffer and die.  Preparing His disciples for His passion as He went, Jesus strode on with a resolute determination that Luke described as “setting his face” like flint for Jerusalem.

Focused as He was on getting there, while readying His disciples, Jesus no doubt meant to pass quickly through this border village between Galilee and Samaria.  But, on its outskirts, ten lepers accosted Him and begged Him to “have mercy” on them.  Were they hoping for a healing or just a handout?  Either way, they pleaded for His help, even while they kept far away because the biblical law commanded them to practice social distancing to protect the health of others.

Though it’s unlikely Jesus had expected to deal with these lepers, He didn’t see them as mere interruptions.  Luke wrote that Jesus “saw them”.  Luke’s saying that wasn’t superfluous.  For “seeing” often conveyed for Luke a discerning deeper than that of physical sight.  It signified perceiving people as God perceives them and perceiving how to serve them.  In seeing these lepers, Jesus saw them as precious people, and saw what was His to do for them right then.  So, in response to their plea, He gave them an action assignment.  He told them to “go and show” themselves to the priests, something lepers who thought they might be healed had to do.  For they wouldn’t be allowed back in public until the priests certified them as safe to be around, in a 1st first century equivalent of a vaccination card.

Now some people have to receive a miracle in order to gain faith, and others have to act as if they have faith in order to receive a miracle.  These lepers were of the latter sort.  As they stepped out in a little faith and walked to the priests as Jesus told them, they found themselves “made clean”.  But only the Samaritan among them saw their healing as more than just a blessing for them to enjoy.  The Samaritan also saw what was his to do: Walk back to Jesus and thank Him.

The Samaritan saw that thanking a person involves more than just feeling gratitude or expressing gratitude.  It involves showing gratitude in action.  So he returned to Jesus and fell before Him to honor and praise Him.

Not all of us have been delivered by Jesus from a physical disease; but those of us who walk with Him have experienced something of a deliverance from the moral and spiritual diseases of meaninglessness, despair, guilt, apathy to the plight of others, passivity in the fight for justice, and timidity about sharing the good news about Jesus.  If we have any kind of gratitude for how He has healed us, we fulfill that gratitude, not just by talking the right talk, but also by taking the right action: that is, by glorifying Jesus and applying our time, talent and treasure in service of others, in passing on His goodness and love.  We show gratitude best by both word and deed – knowing that, if God had to choose between the two, He would always pick the latter.

A Christian woman named Sue came to appreciate, from her own experience, this preference God has.

Sue gave her time, talent and treasure in service of a Christian halfway house for women coming out of addiction.  In the process, she’d grown close to several of them.  So one sunny day, she treated them, on her dime, to a gourmet picnic in the park.  They had a blast as they frolicked on the grass, swung on the swings, gabbed a mile a minute with each other, and gorged on Angus beef hamburgers, Bristol Farms potato salad and cherry pie, and exotic sodas.

At the end of the afternoon, the women from the house exuberantly divided up the leftovers.  As Sue folded up lawn chairs and carried them back to the van, no one asked what food she might like to keep.  It was as if they’d forgotten who’d provided it in the first place, and Sue felt slighted…until she caught wind of what they were up to:  They were organizing the leftovers to pass them on to women back at the house.  Their excited chattering was to figure out what food to give to which woman.  Sue heard snippets: “With her sweet tooth, we’ll give this pie to Ali… and these burgers to Rosa; she was just talking about how she hadn’t tasted a good burger in ages… and you know how Wanda is always thirsty.  She should have these sodas.”  As Sue listened, a big bright smile broke on her face and she couldn’t imagine being thanked any better!

God gives us good gifts, with no strings attached.  For that pure generosity, He deserves our thanks.  But no expression of gratitude pleases Him as much as when His children share His gifts with other children of His.  Those who do that are His cherished children of gratitude!

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