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.
I imagine that most of us had that childhood experience where every request was followed by the question, “What do you say?” And then, once we received whatever it was we were seeking, our parents would follow-up with, “Now, what do you say?” Of course, this was our training in saying “Please” and “Thank you.” And if our parents were as successful as they probably wanted to be, the end result is that we now include “please” and “thank you” at all the appropriate times without even thinking about it. Yet, the problem with such rote practices is that the words can sort of lose their meaning because there is no true thought behind them. It’s almost as bad as if you just didn’t even say “thank you” at all.
When I was in college, I received one of the greatest life lessons ever, though in a most unfortunate way. My college marching band practiced quite early every Saturday morning during marching season. Well, on one of those Saturdays, the band director stopped on his way to campus and bought doughnuts and juice for the entire band. We all indulged mightily and enjoyed the special treat that day, only to find out two days later that not a single person in the band had bothered to thank the band director for his generous gesture. This man had left his home early and spent what must’ve been a considerable amount of his own money in order to give us a special treat on an early Saturday morning. And out of the roughly 85 members of the band who enjoyed those doughnuts that morning, not a single one of us had bothered to say “thank you” to our teacher. When the band director pointed this out to us a couple of days later, we quickly rushed to offer our thanks, but the damage was already done. It was too late.
But here’s the thing that we have to consider today. How would our “thank yous” be different if our lives literally depended on what someone else did for us? There was a story in the news a few years ago about two explorers who got lost in the South American jungle. For nine whole months they wandered about, not knowing where they were going or how to get out. Finally, after many scary adventures and often even giving up hope altogether, they were found and rescued. By that time, they may not have had enough energy to shout, but they would have felt it. Certainly, their relatives back home did! They must’ve showered the rescuers with thanks; we could even imagine them setting up some sort of fund as a tangible way of expressing their gratitude the people who had risked their own lives to save them.
It’s so easy for us to just throw out “thank yous” here and there and everywhere as we go about our day-to-day lives. It’s also quite easy for us to forget to say “thank you” from time to time when someone extends a nice gesture to us. But that changes quite a lot when our very life hangs in the balance and our well-being is in someone else’s hands. Or, at least, it should change. What we see in our scripture reading this morning, though, is that sometimes, we humans can’t muster a “thank you” even when someone has saved our lives. And how messed up is that?!?
Our reading from Luke this morning tells the story of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. But the thing is, the story isn’t really about the healing, that’s more of a sidebar to the actual story, which is about the one leper who came back to Jesus to say “thanks.” And even as we consider the gratitude expressed by this leper, what Jesus really wants to teach us is a lesson of faith.
We tend to think of faith as some sort of quantitative thing; either you have it or you don’t, either you have enough of it to get what you desire, or you don’t. But once again, as with our scripture reading last week, we hear Jesus telling us not to be concerned with the quantity of faith, but instead to focus on the nature of faith. In other words, Jesus wants us to understand that to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith—this is the sort of grateful faith that has made this man from Samaria truly well. Indeed, Jesus wants us to see that “faith” and “gratitude” are really two words for the same thing: to practice gratitude is to practice faith. If faith is not something we have, but something we do, something we live, then in living we express our complete trust in God and offer all of our gratitude to God, the giver of all good things.