This text from Luke’s Gospel is often used to make us feel guilty, telling us we haven’t been as thankful as we should have been. I much prefer encouragement to blame as a way to influence folks, so this comment by Jesus troubles me.
So, how do we think about this text, when Jesus is clearly trying to make the nine healed lepers feel guilty? First, let’s put the story into modern terms so we can connect with it better.
On a tour of Western Africa, Jesus stopped near a village where ten Ebola patients were being treated. They kept their distance from him, as they called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the doctors.” They were not healed immediately, but by the time they reached the edge of town, they noticed that they had been made well. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, ran back to Jesus, knelt at his feet and thanked him. And he was a Muslim.
Then Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten people? Where are the other nine? Was this Muslim the only one who took the time to praise God for his healing?” Then he said to him, “Your faith has made you whole. Go on your way.”
In the original version and in my modern adaptation, the outsiders are praised. Good Jews avoided Samaritan territory whenever possible. Jews and Samaritans shared some aspects of faith, and had Moses as a common ancestor in the faith, but they mostly saw each other as too different to have cordial relationships with each other.
Today, while we recognize that Christians, Jews and Muslims have Abraham as our common ancestor, we are often suspicious of each other. Since all three faiths have extremists, we don’t know if we can trust each other.
It’s only through the circumstance of disease that the ten men (or men and women?) are stuck together in exile from their communities.
We notice that Jesus comments to the outsider that his faith had made him whole. While this could mean that only the outsider’s faith had made him whole, we should not assume that the faith of the other nine was not strong. After all, they all called out to Jesus as master, and they all believed that he could heal him.
Where we see the difference is in the giving of thanks. We are shocked to realize that it was only the outsider – the Samaritan, the Muslim -- who took the time and effort to return and give thanks for his healing. The others appear to have taken the healing for granted.
They were so excited about being healed that they headed directly to the priest/ doctor, so they could be declared clean. Once officially declared healed, they were able to hug their families and get back to making a living, get back to normal lives. So, while they may have been grateful to be healed, they were more focused on what came next. In the process, they neglect taking time out to give thanks. In so doing, they take the healer – God – for granted.
How often do we take God for granted? How often are we so focused on what comes next that we neglect to take time to give thanks for what we have been given?
Let’s make a list of some things for which we can be grateful, but which we often take for granted.
We woke up today.
We woke up today in a house, on a bed, with blankets, and heat and air conditioning.
We live here in the Nature Coast of Florida, where we have God’s beautiful creation right outside our doors.
We have beautiful sunsets.
We have family and friends to love and care for.
We have enough to eat and drink, with a variety of foods and flavors.
We have food our ancestors never ate, and we have seasonal foods all year ‘round.
We are relatively healthy. If we are not as healthy as we could be, we have medications and therapies to control our un-health.
While we may complain about the relative cold, we don’t have snow to shovel.
We have many ways of communicating with each other, from face to face, to landline phones to cell phones and computers and tablets.
We create beauty, with gardens and cut flowers, with paintings, with carvings and wood-working, with fabric, with colored stones, and much more.
We have jobs, or retirement income from jobs.
We have cars to get around, or we have friends who are willing to provide transportation.
We have stores nearby – maybe not the stores we want, but at least we can get what we need nearby. We can order what is not available locally from the internet and have it delivered in a few days.
These are some of the matters of just living that we often take for granted.
As Americans, we may take for granted the ability to worship as we wish, as often as we wish. But after my time in Eastern Europe in 1987, I realized how valuable our freedom of religion is. In some places in the Arab world, and the communist world, it is, even today, difficult for Christians to worship.
We even take for granted that we have been born American, and not Chinese or Russian, or Egyptian.
As Lutherans, we focus on the grace of God, on the gift of freedom in Christ to care for one another. We take for granted this freedom which means we need not strive to be perfect, since we are made perfect through Jesus Christ.
We believe that God created all that exists, including the world that surrounds us, and our very selves. We believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who lived and died to prove to us how much God loves us and how readily God forgive us. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God communicates with us and connects us to each other.
We have Jesus’ promise that death is not the final word in our lives, that our relationship with God continues even after we die.
In our day-to-day living, we tend to take much of what we have and what we do for granted. I encourage you this week to examine your lives and notice how much you take for granted. Take time, right then, to give thanks.
We believe that all we have was given to us by God. Yes, we have worked hard to purchase what we own, and we have scrimped and saved money to improve the conditions of our lives. But at the beginning, it all comes from God.
So, let us give thanks to God for our health, our wealth, our location, our loved ones, and the countless ways in which God blesses our lives every single day.
Please pray with me. Generous God, we give you thanks for everything you give to us. Forgive us when we forget that you are the source of all we have. Remind us to give thanks to you, and to strive to be as generous as you are. Amen