Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Luke 17:11-19 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.
You know, it's probably a pretty common litany in most households with children. A child asks for something and then is often instructed, "What do you say?" "Please." And then after the child has been given that item, that food, whatever it was requested: "What do you say?" "Thank you." We were reminded of this past weekend when we went around and did some limited trick-or-treating. Each time we'd say, "Did you say 'thank you'' to our children as I think most parents do. That word 'Thank You' is an important one. It's one that we are taught and instructed in from the earliest of ages. It's one that I think most of us probably offer. I think it's one that society and convention says is normal and acceptable to hear. It's one that we probably do take for granted. It's one that kind of rolls off of our lips sometimes without having given it a lot of thought. Someone's holding the door for you and you walk past without making eye contact, say "thank you" and keep going. It's there and yet sometimes we forget how important it is.
In our Scripture this morning, we have this scene that unfolds with these ten lepers hanging outside of a village that Jesus is approaching. Now leprosy is a specific disease and our understanding of it Biblically could have been any collection of all sorts of skin diseases. The Priests were the keeper of safety and security in those communities. If someone came down with this rash that didn't seem to be going away, the Priest was the one that would examine it and declare, 'You're okay, you're clean. It's gonna heal, you'll be fine.' Or they're the one that would say, 'Nope, you're unclean. Out you go.' Which meant that they no longer could live in the community because they believed and thought that it would probably rub off and be contagious. So for the well-being of all these people, these lepers were exiled out of the community. Sometimes they'd go off and form communities. Other times they would live outside the wall of the city or the village. That afforded safety to everybody within. They were consigned to a life of living with other lepers. They were consigned to a life of begging simply to survive.
So it was probably not uncommon for lepers to be at the entrance to a village calling out asking for money, asking for food, asking for whatever someone would give them. And as Jesus approached they called out. Adding that title 'Master' may have been unique to Jesus. They may have heard about this man, this miracle worker. But the plea, the call, was probably not much different, 'Have mercy on us. Have mercy and give us something to eat. Have mercy, give us some money so we can survive.' But the call went out to Jesus, 'Have mercy on us.' Now Jesus gives them a simple instruction. One that if you or I were calling out for mercy and told, 'Go show yourself to the Priest' we'd be thinking 'wait a minute, what? I just asked for mercy and you're telling me to go show myself to the Priest.' And out of obedience, out of faith, out of whatever it was when Jesus said, 'Go and do this', they did.
We're told that as they went, they were healed, cured of whatever it was that was afflicting them. We're told that one of them when he saw they were healed, turned back, praised God in a loud voice, and went and threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. His mother must have taught him well. He knew he was supposed to say thank you. And yet, the story really pushes us in the fact that of the ten, this one, this foreigner, the Samaritan, the least likely, the one who was even before his affliction and illness the lowest of the low, was the one who recognized and was moved to go and to thank Jesus. Just to say thanks for all that had been done. 10 were healed. 10 were made clean. And yet this one goes back.
How often do we find ourselves in the position of the other nine? You see, we're quick to enjoy the gifts. But we're often kind of slow to praise the Giver. We're quick to go to God with our prayers when we need something. But we're not always as quick to come back with our praises and offer our thanks when we see God working in a way that often surprises in a way that often far exceeds what we could have expected. And yet, within this story, this one who goes back and offers this thanks to Jesus, Jesus looks and him and says, 'Where are the other 9? Weren't 10 made clean?' And then Jesus says to this man, 'Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.'
Now there's a lot more to this story than just the fact that this man no longer has his leprosy, no longer has this skin condition that was afflicting him. He has been made well. He had been healed before he came back to Jesus. Sometimes we miss some of the word play that happens in some of the original languages. Here this man and the other 9 were made well. They were made clean. But this same word that is used and translated as "well and clean" is also translated as "saved, go your faith has saved you." Maybe this one got even more than all of them had bargained for when they called out to Jesus. Maybe this one by stopping and recognizing all that had been done for him and returning to offer thanks, was doubly blessed and received more than just having his illness removed from him. Maybe the gratitude that filled his heart and overflowed with these loud praises to God that he offered with him, going and throwing himself at Jesus' feet to say, 'Thank you', also changed his heart.
I think that's the thing about gratitude that is so important. That gratitude has a way of changing our attitudes. That gratitude is our ability to look around and recognize blessings for what they are. It's for that reason that we've passed out these journals. I know some of you have come by the office to pick them up, some of you got them here. For those of you at home, you are welcome to come and get one or we'll even mail it to you. But I've asked you to begin keeping a journal and reflect upon, "What am I grateful for? What are the blessings I have?" The challenge is to think about and list at least 10 things each day. I've already had people share only a week in that their day seems different when they spend time thinking about and naming the things that they have to be thankful for.
You see this year, as we've all been talking about and lamenting has presented us with plenty of challenges, plenty of adversity, and hardship. It would be really easy to sit here and go down and check off the list of all the negative and bad things that we've experienced and had to contend with. But those don't leave you feeling very uplifted, do they? In fact, the more we think about and dwell on them, the heavier the weight of it is bearing upon us. But if we make a choice to focus upon the things for which we have to be thankful, we begin to see more of those around us. In my reflecting and journaling, I haven't done this exercise for a while, I forgot that once you start naming those blessings, it takes you to the next one and the next one and the next one. Oh, I'm thankful for this, and oh yeah because of that I also am thankful for such and such. And suddenly what we're looking at before us is the goodness of God.
So we write them down and hopefully you're taking those as an opportunity to pray as well. And say, 'God, thank you. Thank you for all of these things that you have done. All of these things. All of these people. All of these situations and circumstances that you have placed in my life to be a blessing.'
I don't want to disparage those other 9 who didn't go back. Maybe they truly were grateful. But maybe they just didn't for whatever reason go to Jesus. The one did. But more than the one. What about those of us who've experienced such an illness, such as these 10? What about us who have been blessed with good health, prosperity, security, safety, a home, and not taking an opportunity to give thanks. Giving thanks brings us a blessing. Giving thanks is a way in which we participate in this cycle of love, this cycle of generosity that God gives. We give back to God through our thanks, through our praise, through our generosity. And God continues to give.
We have the opportunity to continue to praise, to show thanks, and be generous. And the cycle: the Giver continues to give and we in our own turn become givers as well. Just by giving thanks: we are transformed. Our lives are shaped and changed so that all that God pours into us flows back to God and flows to the lives of others as we offer thanks and share God's love. May we give thanks to the Giver and learn from him how to give ourselves.