Jeremiah 29:1,4-7; Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Today’s gospel reading is about gratitude. Many of you have heard this story countless times.
So have I. There are many lessons to learn from this story, but the one that jumps out at me this week is the connection Jesus makes between gratitude & spiritual health.
Ten lepers seek Jesus out. All do as they are told. They go to the priests as any ―unclean‖ person must do to get an official clean bill of health. On the way, they discover that they are healed. One of these runs back to Jesus, giving thanks to God for his healing. And Jesus exclaims, Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?
By now we shouldn’t be surprised. In the stories of our faith those who by their example teach some of the most important lessons of faith are people we wouldn’t expect. They are those whom religious people view with suspicion–maybe even contempt. They are outsiders.
That’s what it meant to be a Samaritan. Samaritans were racial minorities, ―half-breeds‖—they were the children of Jews who had intermarried with foreigners. They were rejected by Jews as having the wrong beliefs & the wrong practices. And yet,it is a man whom religious people despised who becomes an example of faith for all.
What does it mean to have faith? Many of us in the church have been raised to believe that faith means having the ―right beliefs.‖ But Jesus doesn’t seem too interested in this man’s beliefs. He’s interested in his attitude. This Samaritan has what might be called gratitude attitude.
The message is this: faith in God & gratitude cannot be separated. A faithful heart is a grateful heart. On the other hand, if that’s all there is to it, the Samaritan would’ve said, ―Thank you, Jesus,‖ & Jesus would’ve answered, ―You’re welcome!‖–& left it at that.
He doesn’t. To this Samaritan, he says, Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.
This man probably had very different beliefs from Jesus himself. And yet, Jesus doesn’t say a word about doctrine or beliefs. He’s interested in the man’s grateful spirit. Having cured the man of a physical illness, he diagnoses the Samaritan’s spiritual condition & pronounces the man healthy.
Gratitude is a sign of health.
Dear friends, those who choose to live gratefully in our day will be received as Samaritans –as outsiders. Because, although we live in a land of great abundance & opportunity, we live in an age of ingratitude & entitlement. Instead of joy & gratitude, the spirit of many is marked by an angry determination to preserve privilege & self-interest. (If you doubt that, check out today’s Seattle Times headline.) The prognosis for an ungrateful heart is not good, because there is no cure unless a person wants to be cured.
Thankfully, there are those who set a different example, & many of these—like the Samaritan—are unexpected. For example, a person can have terminal cancer & still be grateful for memories of a rich & satisfying life.
A person can be dying of AIDS & still use the time they have left on earth to be grateful for the love & care of family & friends. A person can be without reliable financial resources & still live gratefully. Maybe you know such people.
Faith & gratitude cannot be separated. Spiritual health & gratitude cannot be separated. How is it with your faith? How is it with your spirit?