Summary: The story of Jesus' healing of the 10 lepers reminds us that one of the greatest expressions of faith is gratitude before God in Christ Jesus.
As Saturdays go for college students, mine were always a bit atypical, particularly during football season. I was a part of the marching band at my school, and every Saturday our football team had a home game, we had band practice on the field at 9 a.m. I don’t think I have to tell you that marching band practice at 9 a.m. on a Saturday was not easy for any of us, but it was what it was. And so we would assemble, many often still in their pajamas, and run through our show on those Saturday mornings. I vividly remember one Saturday morning late in my college career when we arrived at the field to discover the band director had brought donuts and orange juice for the entire band. We all indulged heartily before practice began; our spirits were lifted as we took to the field…donuts just seem to have that affect! It was great!
Now, normally, a few donuts on a Saturday morning wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy. But here’s why I remember that morning so well. It was because of a class I went to on Monday, just two days later. It was a small Music Ed. Methods class taught by the band director, and as we gathered for class that day, he told us that of the roughly 85 people in the band, not one single person had thanked him for those donuts he brought on Saturday. Needless to say, those of us in the class who were a part of the band were quite ashamed, and we quickly offered our thanks to the band director, but really it was too late.
It wasn’t that the band wasn’t appreciative of what our band director had done for us. Of course we were. The problem was that none of us had bothered to express that appreciation to the band director. He had gone out of his way and put up some of his own money so that we could all enjoy some juice and donuts before that early morning practice, and none of us had bothered to take just a few moments to say “thanks.” None of the 85 of us could come up with a simple “thank you.”
That one incident from my college years stands shamefully in my mind as a most appalling example of ingratitude. This passage we heard from Luke this morning poignantly tells another story of ingratitude. The lepers came to Jesus with desperate longing; he cured them, and nine never came back to give thanks. It was the truth of the donuts, and it is the truth of the healing; it is the truth of humanity that so often after we have gotten what we want, we never come back. But what if we were to think of gratitude as an expression of faith; or even that they were one and the same?
In so many of the healing stories of the gospels, Jesus heals people because of their faith; the faith that compelled them to come to him seeking his healing touch, believing that he had the power to make them well. Jesus tells the grateful Samaritan leper that his faith has healed him as well, but this time it is the foreigner’s faithful gratitude and praise of God that heals him. Because in that gratitude, the foreigner also faithfully acknowledged something special about Jesus.
Here’s what I mean: In the cultural rules of Jesus day, if you were trying to get help from someone, you would not thank that person until you had actually been fully helped. You might thank God in prospect for help to come. But you would not thank another person until the favor asked was completed. That just wasn't done. What this means is that the nine lepers who went on their way and did what Jesus told them to do were not so much being rude. They were just doing the normal thing under such circumstances, much like we would probably do today. They would thank the priest who declared them clean, because that was the point when all was completed. It kind of makes you wonder even more if the nine lepers were any better men because of their cure; we are led to believe that they were just in better health. But the Samaritan's return to Jesus was special; not only because of his special expression of gratitude, but also because he was showing himself to the priest! Jesus was the priest and this Samaritan recognized that! Jesus saw the great faith of this man expressed in many ways, declared him whole, and sent him on his way.
The other nine had been healed, but only this one received Jesus’ declaration of salvation. It was the man’s faith in Jesus Christ the Priest, expressed in sincere and fervent gratitude that saved him, that brought him complete healing. Faith, like gratitude, is our response to the grace of God as we have experienced it. For those who have become aware of God’s grace, all of life is filled with a sense of gratitude, and each encounter becomes an opportunity to see and to respond in the faithful spirit of the grateful leper. The Samaritan, because of his praising God, was really whole, in soul as well as in body, for all eternity.