(Luke 17: 11-19)
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Recently, in the breakroom at my company, I overheard two ladies talking about their teen daughters. These kinds of discussions are commonplace, but this particular conversation caught my attention. It seems that one of the gals has two teen daughters. They live in the same family environment, share the common DNA of both of their parents, and yet are different in so many ways. One daughter willingly does her share of the chores each week, keeps her room presentable (come on now, she is a teenager!), and is always grateful and appreciative for all of the things her parents and others do with and for her. But the other sister, well it is like she came from a different set of parents. She is “sassy” and bold, in both mind and mouth. She lives on her own timeclock, and has to be pushed to finish her chores and tidy up her room. Her mom even had to “nag” her to send her grandmother a thank you note for the “cool” new sneakers she received from her as a birthday gift. “You would think she could show some appreciation without being nagged to do it,” her mother sadly complained.
My company recently did an employee satisfaction survey. The company uses the information to gage morale and learn what employees like and dislike most about their work and working environment. They tabulate the results, and then share their findings and their plans for improvement in the areas of greatest concern and importance to the workers. It is not surprising that issues of COVID-related scarcity and cost elevation have hit our company. It is more difficult to both find and retain committed workers who are willing to put in the hours on the shop floor needed to manufacture, package and ship product to our customers. So, this survey was an attempt to determine what the employees of the company currently want the most. Pay, of course, is always on the list of “wants.” But it surprised me a bit that feeling appreciated for their contributions to the goals of the company also scored very high on the list. The employees want management to appreciate the good work they do. So, pizza and pasta lunches provided by the company do matter to the employees on the floor. After all, I can come up with all kinds of great new products in my R&D lab, but they are just great ideas until these folks produce them and make them real products offered to meet our customers’ needs.
Sincere appreciation, true heart-felt gratitude, as you can see from my examples, is important in so many aspects of our daily lives, from our work to our human relationships with our families and friends.
Although the ways of the world rarely coincide with those of our faith-life, appreciation and gratitude do form a bridge that crosses between them. Our lesson for today, from the Gospel of St. Luke, shows us that sincere and heart-felt gratitude for the many blessings we receive is, indeed, an important aspect of our Christian faith and practice. Jesus was passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee one day, and he was approached by ten lepers. As leprosy is a contagious disease, they kept their distance from Jesus, but shouted out to him “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus saw them, had compassion for them, and met them at the place of their need by healing them of their leprosy. The scriptures tell us, “They went their way and were made clean.” Jesus had told them that they should present themselves to the temple priests, and as they went their way, they were healed and made clean by Jesus. One of the group, when he discovered that he had been healed and cleanse of his leprosy, turned back, praised Almighty God for his healing, and then knelt at Jesus’ feet thanking him in appreciation for the blessing of the miracle healing he received. Jesus asked the man about the others; “Where are they?” he inquired. “Was none of them found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus asked. You see, the one who returned to give Jesus his heart-felt thanks and appreciation was a Samaritan. He was not a member of the Hebrew people, those who were first chosen for Jesus’ ministry of healing and salvation. Yet, he had faith in Jesus; healing faith, even though he was not a member of the Jewish in-crowd. For his faith, this man was healed and made whole once more. And the others… well… Jesus healed those ingrates too.
From today’s text about Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers, two teachings about God and God’s kingdom are made known to us. The first is that although gratitude and appreciation are important in the kingdom of God just as they are in our worldly lives, they do not stop us from receiving God’s blessings, mercy, and love. Jesus healed the other lepers, those who did not thank him, as well as the one man, the unlikely Samaritan, who did. Perhaps, Jesus pointed this fact out just to show the extent of God’s mercy and love. It surely gives us the blessed assurance of God’s ever-present love and care for us regardless of whether we acknowledge, or even notice, that we have received it. In plain words, God forgives our carelessness in often failing to acknowledge, let alone to show, our gratitude and appreciation for the many ways by which God continually blesses us. This is true even when we neglect to appreciate the very things for which we have prayed to God to receive. Whew, that is a relief!
The second understanding about which today’s gospel lesson reminds us is that God’s mercy is for all who come into belief, not just a chosen few. My favorite verses of John 3:16-17 are well illustrated in the storyline of this text about the ten lepers. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” It is not about us but what Jesus did for us. “Everyone” stated in this text literally means everyone who believes is saved, whether rich or poor, identifying as female, male or gender neutral, of every nation, race and color, of every ability and disability, grateful for blessings or negligent in thanksgiving; all who believe and call upon the name of the Lord will be saved! Praise God—this gospel lesson truly is good news!
Here’s the thing, though, Church. Once we are saved by God’s grace, justified by our faith in the atoning sacrifice Jesus made for our sins when he died on the cross, we receive “power from on high.” This power refers to the gift Jesus promised of the blessed Holy Spirit who works with, in, and through us, perfecting us as children of our Lord along our life’s journey. John Wesley called this growth in the Spirit “holiness” or holy living. Holy living is made manifest in us when we show kindness, mercy, love and, yes, gratitude in the course of our daily living. That is what, as United Methodist Christians, we mean by having a mission statement calling us not only to make, but to mature Disciples of Christ Jesus for the transformation of the world. Change begins with the transformation of our hearts. It is a process of spiritual growth we strive to achieve, walking together in a community of faith, with the help and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. This new life of growth and perfecting ourselves in the Spirit available to everyone, for God loves us all—the grateful… and… the others. Amen.