Luke 17:11-19
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 9, 2022

Anyone who’s studied the Bible for a while can see that the practice of gratitude is a core practice of the Christian faith.  Yet, even the most devoted Bible students may under-appreciate the value of gratitude by looking at it from only one angle.

Thanking God involves both a retrospective orientation and a prospective one.  It acknowledges the blessings of the past and opens doors to further blessings in the future; creates a memorial for gifts already received and an opportunity for new gifts to be received.

To thank God is to converse with the Source of all blessings; to connect with, and interact with, God in such a way as to build a deep, personal relationship with Him.  Soon enough, then, those who are grateful discover that the Giver of all good gifts is Himself the best gift of all.

On the border frontier between Israel and Samaria, there were ten lepers.  Leprosy was then an incurable and highly contagious disease that scared people more than COVID or AIDS ever did. It disfigured folks and caused them to lose fingers, feet, ears and other flesh.

However, the worst of leprosy was not the physical suffering but the social.  Lepers had to isolate themselves completely from the rest of their society.  By law, lepers had to practice extreme social distancing and give up attendance at public gatherings such as worship, funerals and family celebrations.  The only company lepers could keep was with fellow lepers.  Thus, lepers were never picky about friends.  That’s why this band of lepers included both Jews and Samaritans, two groups that normally wanted nothing to do with each other.

Since almost no one would hire a leper for fear of being infected, lepers had to beg in order to survive.  They’d position themselves along traffic routes and hit up passers-by for handouts.  If moved with pity, a traveler might leave a little food or money on the shoulder of the road for the lepers to pick up once the traveler had scurried off to stay safe.

No doubt these ten lepers had heard the rumors of Jesus and His miracle-working power, and taken special note of the stories of His healing lepers.  So, when He approached, they yelled out to Jesus by name and pleaded, “Have mercy on us!”  That may have been their standard line with every traveler; but surely the lepers, perhaps to an extent they couldn’t admit to themselves, were hoping against hope for something extraordinary.

Jesus heard them, but did not directly respond to their plea.  Rather He gave them an assignment: To go and show themselves to the priests – back when priests doubled as public health officials who had to certify that a formerly ill person would no longer endanger others. So Jesus didn’t make them a promise exactly; but His command to go to the priests made no sense unless there was a chance that what the lepers only dreamed about might come to pass.

When you want something bad enough, you’ll take a long shot on getting it.  Who knows how much the ten lepers believed?  But, if only as a desperate stab to silence their despair for a moment, they obeyed Jesus’ word and went as sent.  As a result, they experienced what many of us have: a blessing that did not precede obedience, but proceeded from obedience.

As it happened, these lepers, while walking to their medical exam, noticed their skin looking clearer than it had for years and they felt their affliction depart from them.  They all then believed a miracle had taken place.

So all ten were cured of their leprosy and knew it.  But nine of them, caught up in the ecstasy of their healing, forgot all about the Healer behind it and rushed on to enter their new and far happier life.  Only one of them, a Samaritan, took the time to turn around and look for Jesus to thank Him.

As a result, the nine had only the one blessing, and missed out on the rest; while the grateful one catalyzed a life-long chain reaction of blessings.  For, by returning to Jesus to express his gratitude, he engaged with the Wellspring of a billion blessings, with an open heart receptive to the start of an enduring, deep and life-changing friendship with Jesus.  That personal interaction between the two of them began a relationship that would uplift, not just the leper’s physical well-being, but his whole life.

When during their conversation Jesus spoke of faith making him well, the verb translated there as “make well” is the same verb often translated as “save”.  For example, that word would be used two chapters later in the Gospel of Luke to record Jesus’ saying that He’d come to seek and save the lost.

Here is a story of ten lepers being healed and one of them also being saved.  The Samaritan’s thanking Jesus precipitated a closeness between the two of them that sparked a never-ending explosion of blessings: physical, spiritual and social.

Now, to come to Jesus, the Samaritan had to leave his nine friends.  Yet, breaking ranks with them, he gained a new family:  the family of the grateful, of those who keep relishing God’s gifts in ceaseless appreciation of who God is and what God has done.

We are tempted to think about our faith as if it were first and foremost about our working hard to make a difference in this world, when in fact it is first and foremost about God’s working hard to make a difference in us so that we are able to make a difference in the world.  When we keep thanking and praising God for His abundant grace, it moves us and empowers us to seek to embody that same grace to everyone we can.

Gratitude defines the community of Christ, and energizes its members to uplift others as Christ uplifted them. Let us give thanks to God, and grace-filled, grateful service to our neighbors!

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