Summary: To give thanks, to show gratitude is crucial for our wellbeing and our proper relationship with each other, with nature and with God.
Want to be Truly Healed? Include Gratitude.
This morning’s gospel story presents us with two basic needs that can sometimes be in competition. One is that we need to be satisfied with our lot if we are to be in the least bit ‘happy’. The other need is to be able to look beyond that same situation - to work and hope for the future – a perceived better future.
In the Gospel this morning it is crucial to the story that the lepers believe that Jesus can bring about their healing. They cry out to him. They are in no way resigned to the fact that they must live the rest of their lives as outcasts and beggars. This must have taken great courage and great faith. I suppose it is hard to be grateful when something that you believe should be rightfully yours - in this case health and full membership of the community – is given back to you. Yet there is something vitally important in our giving of gratitude to each other and especially to God.
In his autobiography, Breaking Barriers, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan tells about a teacher who greatly influenced his life. Rowan relates:
Miss Thompson reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper containing a quote attributed to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. I listened intently as she read: ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.’
More than 30 years later, I gave a speech in which I said that Frances Thompson had given me a desperately needed belief in myself. A newspaper printed the story, and someone mailed the clipping to my beloved teacher.
She wrote me: “You have no idea what that newspaper story meant to me. For years, I endured my brother’s arguments that I had wasted my life. That I should have married and had a family. When I read that you gave me credit for helping to launch a marvellous career, I put the clipping in front of my brother. After he’d read it, I said, ‘You see, I didn’t really waste my life, did I?’“
[Published by Little, Brown, January 1992, Reader’s Digest courtesy of www.net.bible.org]
This story illustrates the positive effect that the expression of our gratitude can have on others. It can be life changing! But I wonder what the reason for our need to show gratitude to God. Surely God does not need our affirmation in order to shore up God’s self esteem!
Our gratitude is not meant to benefit God, but ourselves. It is right that we are thankful for all that sustains us because we did not create it – the bounty of the earth has been given to us as the words of the thanksgiving prayer say – ‘to care for and delight in.’ Thankfulness is the proper way to express our relationship with creation. If we lose this sense of thankfulness, even for the little things, we can easily fall into thinking that we are the centre of the world or that life owes us. If look on what has been given to us with other than a sense of gratitude then we can become even more voracious consumers than we are – and all us here inhabit part of the world that is voracious in its appetites – tempted to see the world and all that is in it as mere commodity for our use.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 roubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.
Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.
As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead.