Summary: What we remember is a choice and gratitude is an attitude. Choose the things that bring thankfulness not those that elicit anger, regret and sadness.
A few years ago I had a conversation with a man that I knew at church. He had lost his business when fire gutted his store, and because he had no insurance, starting over was difficult. Moreover, he also was recently divorced and had lost custody of his children except that he was permitted to see them on weekends. As we were getting ready to get into our cars from the chilly Autumn wind in the parking lot that evening, I simply wished him “ a Happy Thanksgiving “ and asked him what he was doing on Thanksgiving Day. The answer I got was not “you too” which is the traditional and cultural answer to such greeting. He stopped abruptly and simply replied “Pastor, what do I have to be thankful for?” That response felt like a dagger in my chest and so I got out of the car and walked towards him, and we had a long discussion. His world might have changed from what it was a year earlier. He did suffer losses and as is often the case with individuals who have experienced tragedy and hardship, they tend to compare their situations to where they were in the past and the holidays become difficult. It is the reason such people experience depression and we have come to coin the term “holiday blues” to describe such afflictions. Our brother chose to remember what the year was and perhaps concluded that rather than progressing, he was going down. His attitude was that his world was going down. Rather thank God on the positives in his life, he was seeing the losses and so concluded that he had no reason to be thankful. This morning, as we gather to celebrate and thank the God of our salvation for fruitful skies and the blessings from his many graces, I invite you to turn to someone and tell your neighbor, “Gratitude comes from Attitude.” I want to take as our text the story of the Ten Lepers as St. Luke recorded it on Luke 17 :11 – 19.
The story is a simple one. Jesus is at an unnamed village on his way to Jerusalem. Luke gives the location of the village as situated between the regions of Samaria and Galilee. At the entrance to the village ten men with leprosy shouted from a distance “Jesus, Master have mercy on us!” (v. 13) Jesus was at this time a popular figure and the lepers by now must have heard about his miraculous healings. They were not asking for money for they knew enough that anyone on the way to Jerusalem cannot have contact with them or they would be considered unclean and may not enter the temple in Jerusalem. They were expecting healing for our Lord asked them to go and show themselves to the priests (v. 14). Only the priest could certify that the lepers no longer had the disease and such certification brought enormous benefit because it meant that one could re-enter society and had dealings with others. It meant one could buy or sell, own property and have relationships. Their very humanity would be restored if they become clean and this was what they were asking for.
Now let me remind you about the disease that Luke referred to as leprosy. It is not the leprosy that we know today. Leviticus 13 provides symptoms and instructions on what to do. Seven different kinds of infections were often called leprosy and it had enormous economic, social and psychological implication. Once there was a skin infection, the individual was to show the self to the priest and if the priest was not sure, isolation was required for seven days and if there was no change, the priest could pronounce the individual unclean. Therefore bald spot on the head, boils, scab, any infection that exposes raw flesh or anything that spreads and turns the skin and hair white was considered leprosy and the priest was given the power to pronounce anyone with such infection, generally called leprosy, as unclean. Once an individual had been pronounced unclean, they were to live outside the city (Leviticus 13; 14; Numbers 12:10-15). They could not touch anybody and were required to leave family and friends and live an isolated life often with other lepers. Wherever such individual leaves the isolated home, the law required that he or she screams to passerbys that he/she is unclean so that no one accidentally comes in contact with the afflicted individuals. These were the ten people Jesus met on that road to Jerusalem. They were considered punished by God for something they did and therefore were dismissed from society. They were not regarded as humans they were seen as filth and they lived without hope and believed that God punished them. They were sinners and no one took pity on them.