“The Power of Gratitude”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
We are not accustomed to seeing Jesus shocked and surprised, but this was his reaction to something that occurred in today’s text. It is appropriate that we examine this story the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I am confident you will understand why.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem when they came across a group of men who had leprosy. Luke was careful to describe these individuals as having leprosy, not lepers. Why did he do this?
Luke was a physician. He knew how a chronic and debilitating illness or handicap could attack a person’s self-esteem as well as their body. Luke never wanted to reinforce feelings of inferiority or worthlessness by labeling anyone struggling with a health issue as nothing more than the name of their disease. This was Luke’s way of treating people with respect, protecting their dignity and helping his readers to understand sick people had the same need for acceptance and love as everyone else.
Earlier, Luke wrote about a man who was paralyzed rather than a paralytic and a man who had demons, not a demoniac. He knew how important it was to see the whole person, not merely one part of him or her.
According to ancient law, these men with leprosy were to take the initiative to keep their distance from anyone approaching them by shouting the words, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’. Apparently these men kept the appropriate distance from Jesus and the disciples, but instead of informing them of their condition, they cried out in unison for help.
“Master, Jesus, have mercy upon us!” they shouted. (Luke 17:13) And Jesus did.
Maybe the word, master, caught Jesus’ attention. After all, in Luke’s gospel this title for Jesus was used only by the disciples. Whatever the reason for looking their way, Jesus mercifully responded to these men’s plea for help by telling them to go show themselves to a priest, implying they would be healed by the time they reached a priest. Once there, they could be examined by the priest to receive a certificate of healing, which was necessary to be reunited with their families and reintegrated into the community.
Each man did as Jesus instructed and was healed. Miraculously, their life of loneliness, hopelessness and despair was over.
It is at this point in the story something unusual happened. One man returned to Jesus after he saw he had been healed. According to Luke, he fell at the feet of Jesus, a sign of profound humility.
With a grateful heart, this man praised God for his healing and thanked Jesus for his role in it. What made this more noteworthy was the fact this man was a Samaritan, not a Jew as the other nine were.
Once again, Luke refused to portray Samaritans as evil and unworthy of grace. The story of the Good Samaritan preceded this one, a story that made a Samaritan a hero, not a villain.
This was contrary to prevailing opinions of that day. Most Jews thought Samaritans could do no good. Luke wanted to dismantle this perception and do his part to break down the barrier between these two groups of people.
Certainly, Jesus was touched by the Samaritan’s humble expression of gratitude, but he was surprised and disappointed only one returned. “Were not all ten cleansed?” Jesus asked. “Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18)
How disappointing it was for Jesus that all ten men cried out in unison for mercy when they saw Jesus, but only one lone voice was heard expressing gratitude for this miraculous gift of healing. In spite of this, Jesus directed his attention to the one who returned. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well,” Jesus told the grateful Samaritan.
You know what part of this story intrigues me most? It is Jesus’ reaction when he realized only one of the men who had leprosy returned to express gratitude for the gift he received. You can sense Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and sadness when he looked around to see if the others were with the Samaritan.
“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Why did the other nine not come back to Jesus as the Samaritan did? A case can certainly be made for their desire to waste no time reuniting with family members and friends.
Since they were diagnosed with leprosy, they had lived a lonely and miserable existence. They were forbidden to enter their village, to live in their homes, to go to work, to worship in the synagogue and to enjoy any social activities. Now that the restrictions were lifted after receiving their certificate of healing from a priest, they rushed home immediately.
This is certainly understandable. Who among us would not want to see family as soon as possible?
However, the Samaritan had to be as anxious to see his family and friends as the nine Jewish men. Yet, before doing so he returned to Jesus to praise God and to thank Jesus for the gift he had received.
It is apparent by the way the Samaritan approached Jesus, falling at his feet, that coming back to thank Jesus was as important to him as seeing his family. Bowing at someone’s feet was the normal posture of a beggar pleading for mercy. Evidently, the Samaritan’s gratitude was as strong as his need to be healed. I doubt going home without returning to speak to Jesus ever entered his mind.
To be candid with you, we’ll never know the reason the nine failed to return to express gratitude to God and Jesus, and this unsolved mystery is not an oversight on Luke’s part. I believe it was his way of informing his readers there was no valid reason for their ingratitude. Their failure to return was inexcusable, regardless of the reason.
And they had to know this. Since childhood these nine men had been taught the importance of gratitude. The first prayer they were encouraged to verbalize was composed of two words, “Thank you.” It appears they forgot their upbringing.
Why was Jesus disappointed and sad they did not return? Were his feelings hurt, or was he upset over their lack of good manners?
I don’t think so. Jesus’ frustration was not about him or their improper etiquette.
Then what was it? Jesus knew how important gratitude is to the development of godly character.
If sincere, profound gratitude was missing in the lives of these nine men, then many other virtues would also be missing. If they did not feel the need to express gratitude for every gift they received, in time their hearts would grow cold and they would be unwilling to help others when they were struggling.
I feel the same way. I believe it is impossible to overstate the importance and value of expressing gratitude for gifts of any size.
In my opinion, gratitude brings the best out in us. No single virtue does more to help us become a person of integrity who is trusted, respected, appreciated and loved.
My friend and New Testament professor, Dr. Alan Culpepper, says gratitude is the purest measure of a person’s character and spiritual condition. I wholeheartedly agree.
Ingratitude turns us inward and make us cynical, arrogant, angry, envious, jealous, fearful, suspicious and vindictive. Gratitude, however, does just the opposite.
Gratitude promotes humility, kindness, compassion and generosity. It motivates us to live by the Golden Rule. It keeps us from becoming judgmental and adopting a critical spirit. It prevents us from becoming hard-hearted and indifferent.
This is because gratitude enables us to see those who have helped us on our journey and reminds us of where we would be without them. Gratitude has a way of opening our eyes, our hearts and our minds so we can see the people who made sacrifices on our behalf.
“When you see a turtle on top of a post, you know it did not get there by itself,” I saw on a poster depicting this scene. None of us is here today without a lot of help, either, and a grateful heart will never let us forget the good people who paved the road we are walking down.
Gratitude really is this influential and powerful. It brings the best out in us and keeps us from becoming cynical, arrogant, angry, greedy, self-centered, insensitive to others’ needs and callous, all too plentiful in today’s culture.
Gratitude is to our spirit what oxygen is to our lungs. It breathes life into our very being and energizes us.
To put it in a nutshell, I have never met a consistently and truly grateful person who was grumpy, stingy, selfish, self-centered or mean-spirited. They know how childish and foolish this behavior is.
With whom do you identify in this story? Are you more like the Samaritan or the group who failed to return to Jesus? I suppose we are all a combination of the two.
Will you join me in working on being more grateful and taking advantage of every opportunity to express it? Gratitude is a choice, you know. Let’s choose it more often.