On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, 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 cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
- Luke 17:11-19
I don’t know about you, but from time to time, I find myself griping and complaining about all this wrong, while blithely taking for granted all that is right. Then, when something good happens, some wrong is made right, I am ashamed to admit that too frequently, I am pleased for a moment before going on my way. That’s human nature, is it not? We expect good things, complain when we do not have them, and accept good and blessing as our due.
That was the case with the ten lepers. Only one of them came back to thank Jesus for cleansing him, a transformation that would allow the leper to live fully again, to rejoin family and friends, to love, to work, and to be whole. Luke makes a point of saying that the lepers, who were required by law to stand at a distance, cried to Jesus for mercy. Jesus responded to their pleas by healing them.
As if it were even possible, try to make a list of all the things God has done for us. God created, gave life, engaged human beings in relationship. God forgives, has mercy, offers grace, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross: His death for our sins. God rights our wrongs, sets us free from sin and death, grants new life in His Spirit, makes us His own children through adoption, works on our behalf for our good, redirects us when we go in the wrong direction. Most of all, most of all, God loves us with an everlasting love. When we are least lovable, least worthy of being loved, God’s love never fails. He is present, patient, tenacious, and fierce in His loving. Nothing can stop Him or His love, even when we reject Him.
Each work of God listed above has multiple expressions and vast implications for our own lives. Can you make a list of all that God has done for you personally? I cannot. I doubt I even know all that God has done, is doing, and will do in me and for me. But I know He has a greater role in my life than I do. He has more impact and control than I do. Since today is Thanksgiving, today would be a good day to start a list of things for which we are grateful, especially a list of the things God does for us – not just in some grand, cosmic sense, but personally. Healing of the lepers was very personal to them, not an act of universal significance such as the Cross or Resurrection. The only ubiquitous implication of the lepers’ healing is the potential it holds for each individual, revealing what God can do and probably does more often than we realize.
Gratitude applied to only one in ten the day Jesus healed the lepers. I’m not sure we could score even ten percent in this generation. Daily we witness anger and condemnation, relentless demands and complaints, incessant accusations and dissatisfaction. Nothing is good enough. I agree. Nothing is good enough… But really, what do we expect when we are talking about human beings? We are a mixed bag at best, and not a one of us is particularly admirable on our own, what with all our pride and insecurities, our favorite prejudices and judgments, our limited grasp of truth and wisdom, and so forth.
I believe human discontent inversely correlates to human fellowship with Christ our God. In other words, the less time we spend with our Lord, the more likely we are to be unhappy, depressed, envious, regretful, annoyed, and on and on. The one thing discontented people are not is thankful. Much of the unrest and agitation we see in society today arises from cultivated discontentment, the encouragement of grievances with corresponding anger and blame. It’s a cycle in which there is no apparent winner, yet the angst and distrust are fed continuously.
A friend and I were talking about Thanksgiving plans, and he’s off to visit his grown children and his grandchildren. Speaking of the lack of gratitude in our culture today, he shared a memory from his children’s grade school years. Just before Thanksgiving one year, they came home from school excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. When he asked what they’d learned about Thanksgiving, they told him all about the native Americans (still called Indians at the time) helping the pilgrims and how the pilgrims held a big feast to say “thank you” to the native Americans.
That is a lovely story with only a grain of truth. To be sure, the pilgrims were grateful to the Indians for their help. But the first Thanksgiving was celebrated after half of the initial pilgrim settlers died from starvation, disease, or exposure to the winter elements. The following year, with William Bradford as governor, land was divided by family, and with the help of native Americans, adequate housing was built, crops were planted and harvested. Trading in the community and with the Indians flourished, and at the end of the season, we find the first Thanksgiving – a celebration centered in gratitude to God, in part for the gift of help from their new friends already living on this land, but even more so for God’s faithfulness and His bounty, His care and His provision.
That is what we have lost. Thirty years ago, my friend’s children were taught gratitude was all about the good Indians, not about the relationship between God and the first settlers in Plymouth, not about their desire to live freely and to worship Christ without persecution by the State. The removal of God from public life was intentional, and attempts to silence faith and worship continue today. Without God to Whom we should be grateful for all that we have and all that we are, we are left to discontent and resentment, division and accusation. No one is happy, and everyone is to blame.
I will be frank that I don’t care who believes they are winning by creating and feeding strife. What I know is that all of us are losing. The further people are removed from God, the less hope and contentment we experience. While talk of God was removed from schools, the need for God never lessens. Nothing satisfies, nothing eases pain, nothing grants peace, nothing offers hope like our God. Without Him, we are taught to look to one another for our needs and our fulfillment and/or serenity. Talk about a disappointing endeavor…
Only one in ten lepers came back and thanked Jesus for the gift of life. As Christianity is disdained and ignored in our society, more and more we Christians will become today’s lepers. Yet, if we can hold onto our gratitude, we will draw people to Jesus no matter what skewed or false information is found in textbooks. Rejection of the blessing and goodness of life in God is only a temporary high that leads inevitably to misery. Living beyond the enflamed divisions and excessive grasping is a witness to the world of the wonder and paradox of faith in Jesus Christ.
Today is Thanksgiving. I pray we will start this very day to focus on being the one who runs back to Jesus to say, “Thank You!” Daily living in gratitude gives way to a life of true joy. Be the thankful one. Don’t listen to the voices cultivating artificial agitation and unnecessary conflict. Ignore those voices for they will come to nothing. But gratitude to God for all His provision, seen and unseen, leads to immeasurable blessing and contentment.
As St. Basil of Caesarea said, “When the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, Who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love, and praise their Creator.”
Be the thankful one who runs back to Jesus, astonished that He would condescend to do something so wondrous for someone so humble. Discontent is banished by gratitude. That starts with us.
Give thanks today, for God is good, and He loves you with an irrevocable and perfect love.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau