(sermon note: 10-09 sermon note)
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a married couple who were out walking through a garden when suddenly a dog ran towards them. They both knew it would bite them. So the husband lifted his wife to let the dog bite him rather than his sweetheart. The dog stopped before them, unsure what to do, barked a little and ran away. The husband put his wife down, expecting a hug and a few kind words of gratitude from her. Instead his wife shouted, “I’ve seen people throwing sticks and stones at dogs, but this is the first time I saw someone trying to throw his wife at a dog!” The moral of the story? No one else can quite misunderstand a husband better than his wife!
Here he was, thinking he was being all chivalrous in picking up his wife and keeping her from getting bitten by the dog! And what gratitude does he get?! Nothing! Or, more accurately, anger and contempt! At least Jesus didn’t get any anger and contempt from the nine lepers who went off without a trace of gratitude. I suppose some of them could have been angry and contemptuous towards him for having cured them of their leprosy. As horrible of a disease it was at the time, it was a disease that was familiar to most people…familiar and sanctioned. Lepers were not all that uncommon in Jesus’ day and the common solution to it was to simply separate the afflicted from the unafflicted. Leprosy was both highly contagious and untreatable which meant there was no other solution than to separate the afflicted. So the afflicted were separated and built entire communities to enable them to live out their days in this world. In healing them of their disease, Jesus in effect pulled them out of their familiar communities and this certainly could have been cause for anger and contempt towards them. No one enjoys being pulled from a familiar community! No one enjoys being pulled from familiarity in general! Life is filled with enough uncertainty as it is but to have someone or something come along and force us into it is just downright contemptible. Yes, I would say at least one or two of those healed lepers were decidedly ungrateful for their healing.
Of course, we aren’t supposed to dwell on the ungrateful nine but instead focus on the grateful one. We’re supposed to focus on the one person who recognized the gift of healing as just that: a gift. And not only a gift but a gift from God. As a gift, it didn’t expect anything in return except a show of gratitude. God is not beyond such an expectation either. God very much wants our shows of gratitude! God likes to hear us say, “thank you,” for all that He does for us. All parents love to hear “thank you” from their children. I never quite understood this growing up, why parents just light up when you say “thank you.” I mean, don’t they know that’s what they signed up for when they had kids?! A lifetime of providing for their children? Thus is the nature of parent/child relationships: the parents provide and the children take. Well, not all parents provide and not all children take. And when you become a parent, you learn just how difficult it is to provide. You learn that you’re one of several trying to provide for their families. You learn that providing deserves a show of gratitude! Children and the irresponsible don’t understand this. Adults and the responsible appreciate gratitude though. And it makes us want to provide more. God wants to provide more for the grateful heart! God knows his gifts will be put to use and will multiply. Why? Because that’s what grateful people do, they put to use their blessings. Just recall the parable of the talents. The one who was given five talents by his master went and traded them only to earn five more talents. The one who was given two talents did likewise and made two more. The one who was given one talent buried it and made nothing from it. Who was the master angry with? The one with the one talent, of course. Jesus’ words are particularly harsh: “for to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29) God doesn’t want us to hoard away our blessings. God wants us to put them to use in being blessings to others. Gratitude conveys a willingness to put gifts to use and that’s ultimately what pleases the giver the most. No one likes to give a gift only to be told, in so many words, that the gift will sit somewhere unused and untouched. Ungratefulness conveys this about gifts.
Now then, is the gift contingent on gratitude? It’s easy to hear Jesus’ words and think that because the one leper turned around and thanked Jesus for his healing then he was healed, especially with the powerful closing remark, “get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus loved repeatedly using this remark as we heard him use it with the Samaritan woman from our gospel reading. Indeed, faith does make us well! But was it the leper’s show of gratitude that made him well? No, it was his faith…the same faith shared by the other nine lepers! They all deserved healing because they were all faithful. Faith is what heals, not gratitude…we mustn’t forget this.
We are grateful because we know our God is faithful to us. James writes, “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (1:17) Every generous act of giving, every perfect gift, is a gift from our faithful God; God working in and through others to convey his deep and abiding love for us. Our God is a good and generous God! Our God is a giving God! Let us cry out with David as he sang in his 107th psalm, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (vs. 1) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.