He Showed Gratitude
Luke 17:11-19 9 October 2022
This morning’s Gospel reading is the account of ten healings Jesus did while on his way to Jerusalem. It speaks about the power of God that uniquely resided in and worked through Jesus. And it highlights the gratitude that one of the men who was healed from a dreaded skin disease expressed to Jesus. Let us look at and unpack these eight short verses.
Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. They are about to enter a village in the region between Galilee and Samaria. As they approach the village a group of ten lepers call out to get his attention. They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” One of the diseases that humans have struggled with since the earliest of times is leprosy. It is a contagious and severely disabling disease caused by the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. The bacteria thrive in the cool areas of the body near the skin surface. Nerves are permanently damaged by the infection. This leads to the victim losing the sensation of pain, and burns or injury often go unnoticed and that creates further secondary problems and infections.
In Israel, the Law of Moses recognized that leprosy was a danger to the community. It recognized that any number of virulent skin diseases was dangerous, and persons who had such diseases were separated from the community. There was little hope of cure. People who had skin diseases often had leprosy but they could have had other skin diseases such as psoriasis or fungal infections. The life of a victim of such skin diseases was terrible. They could not work so they were forced to beg. They banded together for support as they were pushed out of their villages. Wherever they went they had to stay away from people and had to warn others that they must stay away from them by calling out, “Unclean!, Unclean!” In Medieval Europe, lepers wore bells to warn people of their presence. Fortunately, today leprosy is treatable through a multi-drug regimen and is now uncommon in the western world. It is now generally characterized as a tropical disease. Ten people who had leprosy kept their distance from Jesus but called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
The ten lepers must have heard about Jesus and known that the healing power of God resided in him. They must have heard that Jesus had the power to heal people. They called him by name. They also called him “Master.” The only other people who called Jesus master were his disciples. The ten recognized that Jesus was not just an ordinary rabbi but that he operated uniquely in the authority and power of the Lord God. They were not just looking for a few coins or some other handout. They were seeking God’s mercy.
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He did not pronounce healing. He did not touch them. He simply told them to go to the priests for verification of healing. One of the requirements of the Law of Moses was that a person who thought they were healed from a dreaded skin disease like leprosy must be examined by the priests. He then would be reexamined a couple of weeks later. Then if no disease is evident, the priest would pronounce him clean and he could return to his normal place in Jewish society. He no longer would live as an outcast. The stigma of the disease would be removed from him and he would be restored to his place in society. Note that the priests did not heal the person. They merely certified that healing had taken place. Jesus had no special formula for healing. In this case he simply told the diseased persons to go to the priests, and as they did they were healed. As they walked to the priests their leprosy was healed and their lives would be completely transformed. The healing was more than just recovering from a disease. It meant being reinstated to one’s place among his family and friends. It was akin to the raising of a dead person to life.
Something odd happened. Of the ten who were heading to the priests for certification that they were healed, one noticed he was healed and he turned back. He was praising God with a loud voice. He came to Jesus and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. He thanked him. Luke notes, “And he was a Samaritan.” His stigma was a dual one. Not only was he a leper, he was also a hated foreigner. Jews and Samaritans were enemies and had no social contact. While they normally stayed away from each other, occasionally they would do nasty things to each other. In this case nine Jews went off healed of leprosy and did not return to thank Jesus but the foreigner, the Samaritan, came back and gave thanks for what God did to him through Jesus. Jesus was impressed with the response of the Samaritan. He said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
It is good that we live in a Nation that has exceptional medical care and that is a blessing. However, we also live in a culture where many people feel entitled to receive good things without exerting effort or working for them. The culture of entitlement has, in part, created a National Debt that recently passed $31 Trillion. The entitlement mentality is a selfish mentality. Dr. Brene Brown, university professor and clinical social worker writes: “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”
It looks like the entitlement mentality existed in the First Century. Jesus healed ten lepers. As I noted earlier, being healed of leprosy is a big deal. It is a life changing event. One of the healed lepers returned and gave thanks to Jesus for healing him. He showed his gratitude to Jesus. 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? (Luke 17:17-18) The only one who gave thanks, who was grateful, was the Samaritan. It looks like the other lepers felt they had some degree of entitlement as they did not give thanks and shown their gratitude to God for their healing.
What is gratitude? The dictionary definition reports it is “the quality of being thankful; the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Another aspect of gratitude is that it “focuses on what is good in our lives and being thankful for the things we have.” I have seen numerous automobiles in North central Indiana with a sticker on the back window that reads, “Grateful, no matter what.” Being grateful is quite a contrast to the entitlement mentality.
People down through the centuries have recognized the importance of being grateful. Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero saw gratitude as the key virtue. English writer, Charlotte Bronte, sees gratitude as, “a divine emotion. It fills the heart but not to bursting; it warms it but not to fever.” Maya Angelo, American poet, writes: “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” One of the Christian martyrs of the 20th century was Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was murdered by the Nazi’s. He wrote about gratitude: “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” What a statement: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” People throughout the centuries have recognized the importance of gratitude.
The Apostle Paul was a man of gratitude. He often reminded Christians that being thankful is a key Christian practice of faith. Even though he underwent great suffering and persecution, he was one who was grateful and content in all circumstances. He was martyred for his faith on orders of Emperor Nero. Paul wrote the Christians in Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).”
Modern science has revealed important effects of being grateful. Showing gratitude has a powerful and positive effect on our lives. Researchers report that people with gratitude, who practice being grateful, have increased levels of happiness, increased feelings of well-being, have lower depression, are less anxious, less stressed and report having more success at work and have a higher self-esteem. Researchers have found that being grateful and showing gratitude is good for one’s mental health. Entitlement puts an unhealthy focus on one’s self while gratitude places the focus on others. Indiana University professors, Joshua Brown and Joel Wong comment: “Indeed, many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” It is interesting that social scientists are studying things that Christians already know have great value.
There are many ways to show gratitude or give thanks. Of course, one way is to talk with the one you want to thank and tell them how grateful you are for them. Another good way to show gratitude is to write a letter to the person you want to thank. Brown and Wong discovered that there is a good mental effect just to write a letter of thanks even if one does not or cannot send it to someone. Brown and Wong write: “When you write about how grateful you are to others and how much other people have blessed your life, it might become considerably harder for you to ruminate on your negative experiences.” Expressing gratitude is good for the soul, body and mind.
Perhaps you might want to take some time this week and call or write someone and tell them how grateful you are for them. God calls us to be grateful people. Christians are grateful people. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Sermon preached at Veterans Memorial Chapel…CH (COL) Michael W. Malone, AUS, RET