Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” -Luke 17:17-18
Here in the US the Thanksgiving holiday is coming up. Many are surprised to learn the word “holiday” comes from “holy day.” This should help us understand, Thanksgiving Day is not just about eating, football, or shopping, but it is about, as the name implies, “giving thanks.”
There is a fascinating story in Luke 17:11-19 in the Bible about gratitude…and the lack thereof.
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
When we read headlines today, we see countless, heartbreaking reports of confusion and suffering at borders. Borders are often a “no man’s land” of chaos and disorientation, and in this story from 2,000 years ago, we see Jesus and ten lepers on the border between Samaria and Israel. For lepers, not only was their disease a personal health tragedy, but they were also humiliated and excluded from society. That is why they “stood at a distance” and had to shout out so Jesus could hear them.
For such a short passage, this is a deep story with several key lessons for us. 1. Step out in faith. The Bible reports “as they went, they were healed.” An old saying goes, “You can’t steer a parked car,” and sometimes we only see change and miracles as we get up and get going. 2. Do not expect to be thanked. Unbelievably, nine of those healed went on their way, no doubt overjoyed, but did not take the time to thank Jesus who had just offered them healing and gave them a new shot at life. If Jesus experienced a 90% ingratitude rate, we should not expect any better. Plus, despite ingratitude, we should try to help others as we can. 3. Be among the “grateful minority.” Only ONE of the ten healed took the time and made the effort to come back, praise God verbally, fall at Jesus’ feet, and thank Him. We should do the same. Be willing to stand alone. Be willing to do the right thing, even if no one else joins you. A close friend explained that as he grew up, his mother insisted he write “Thank you notes” each time he received some gift and she would cite this story from the Bible as her rationale for insisting he develop that good habit. 4. Refuse racism. Because the Samaritans were part-Jewish ethnically and religiously, there was deep animosity between the two groups. In this episode, however, we see Jesus willing to heal and commend a Samaritan, and the Samaritan leper willing to fall to his feet to thank Jesus the Jew. Imagine how much better our country and world would be if we treated people like individuals and not with blanket stereotypes of racial groups? As the old saying goes, “There is only one race–the human race.”
We can all learn a life lesson from the unnamed Samaritan leper–be thankful and willing to express it. It may sound cliché, but let us resolve to make every day “Thanksgiving Day.”