Text: Luke 17:11-19
Mother Theresa told this story to a gathering in 1994: ‘One evening we went out, and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the sisters, "You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worst."
So I did for her all that my love could do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said two words only: "Thank you." Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: What would I say if I were in her place? And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, "I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain," or something. But she gave me much more; she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face. Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.’
Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift. How good are we at saying ‘thank you’? Sometimes we forget ourselves, we are like the child with a present that tears off the wrapping paper and runs off with the new toy and forgets to say ‘thank you’ to the person who has just given them the gift! Think of the times you have opened a door for someone and they have just breezed on through as if you were their slave and not said a word of thanks! Do we remember to say ‘thank you’ to those who love us and care about us for all that they do, whether it be cooking us meals, washing our clothes or going out to work so that there is money to put food on the table?
In our reading from Luke’s gospel, we see that the Lord Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is journeying towards that city where He will be crucified and where He will rise again. He is on his way to die for my sins and yours. As He does so he comes into a village where there is a colony of ten men who have Leprosy. Leprosy in those days was the number-one dreaded disease. Today we fear Cancer and we fear Heart Disease, in those days they dreaded Leprosy, a disease that was (and is) caused by a bacteria. Pale patches on the skin were usually the first sign of the disease then other complications occurred as the disease progressed. Numbness and lack of feeling in the limbs often led to festering wounds on the hands and feet, and then to the characteristic deformities of the face and limbs. This led to stigma towards those affected and their families, causing them to be shunned and excluded from everyday life.
So these ten men that the Lord comes across are living in isolation, away from their wives and children, away from their community. They must be very lonely; it would be an awful existence. They call out to Jesus:
‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (v13)
Jesus’ reply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us at first, so lets have a look at it. He says:
‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ (v14)
Back then, the way that it worked was that if a persons leprosy went into remission, if they were healed then they would have to go back to the priest before they could be declared clean and fit to live in their community once more. So the Lord is not beating about the bush here. He does not deliver a sermon, pass round the collection plate and then pray for their healing. He simply tells them to go to the priest. All ten men knew what Jesus was saying and so they did as He told them. Not one of them said, “Yeah right, I don’t believe you.” All ten had faith in Jesus, because it was not until they responded in faith that they were healed. Luke puts it like this:
And as they went, they were made clean. (v15)
Now, like the child who in their excitement forgets to say ‘thank you’ for the birthday present, the men run off. They have been imprisoned with this disease for so long, they can’t wait to get home, to see their wives and children. They never thought they would see their homes again and yet here they are, healed and made whole. Wouldn’t that be the most wonderful thing? Would you not just run and shout and jump for joy?
But only one man remembers to thank the Lord Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks Him. This man is grateful. Then Luke drops the bombshell - this man was a Samaritan! The Jewish people and the Samaritans hated each other. From a Jewish perspective the Samaritans were unclean, although originally Jews, their ancestors had intermarried with Gentiles, they had their own temple and style of worship and they were outcasts. This man was not a member of the Select Vestry, he was not even a member of the General Vestry, his name was not even on the Parish list! He was an outsider. But Jesus came to save any who would come to him, Jew, Samaritan, Gentile, any who would respond to Him in repentance and faith. It should have been the insiders who said thank you to Jesus, but they ran off, they took Jesus for granted and off they went.
17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Why do we do it? Why do we take God for granted? If we are honest, we find a pattern as we examine our lives and our relationship with God. We see that there are times when we are thankful, when we do pray and when we do worship with fervent hearts. We have no problem showing our gratitude. But there will be other times, perhaps the majority of the time when we do not. We just cruise though life, hardly praying, hardly worshipping, hardly showing any gratitude at all. Then Bang! Something goes wrong, we get bad news from the doctor or from our employer or from a relative or friend and we are back on our knees praying with all our heart once again. A few days, weeks, months later, the problem has passed, the prayers have been answered and what do we do, we slowly fade in our daily devotion to God, slowly, but surely His Lordship of our life slips and downwards we go until something else happens. How do we solve this? One word: Discipline. We make sure that we have a regular time and a regular place of prayer and Bible study, preferably in the same place, so that that chair or that room or that part of the garden becomes our sacred space. We do this even and especially when we don’t feel like it. Don’t just pray when you want to, pray when you don’t want to. Don’t just say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is easy, say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is not easy.
Pastor Rinkhart was a Minister of a church in Prussia from 1619 to 1649, during the Thirty Years War. From the year the war began until the year the war ended, he was the minister in the same walled city. Many refugees from the war flocked into his city to find safety inside as the battles raged around them. His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the perils of war. It was awful. It was hell on earth. By the end of the thirty years war he was the only minister left in town alive; all the other clergy had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued villages and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a hymn, “Now, thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.” Incredible, isn’t it amazing that he was able to be so thankful in the midst of such suffering because he kept his eyes on the Lord Jesus. It is a great miracle when the human heart is healed of ingratitude, when we can be filled with daily thanksgiving .....to God and others..... for God’s countless gifts of love.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, I lay myself at your feet and with all my heart I thank you for all that you have done in my life. I thank you for forgiving me; I thank you for saving me, for loving me and for washing me clean. Help me Lord to follow you, teach me to be your disciple and to show you how very thankful I am by living my life, all of my life everyday … for You. Amen.
Hymn 361: “Now Thank We All Our God”