Gratitude, or maybe ingratitude, is at the heart of the gospel story today. After weeks of parables we are back into events that directly involved Jesus. Let us first examine the text.
The location of this story is important . Jesus is travelling between his native Galilee and the territory of Samaria, where lived the despised Samaritans. Jews said Samaritans had gone astray in belief. They shunned one another. Samaritans were regarded as inferiors, and contact was avoided. Near a village a group of lepers see him and call him.
Leprosy was a scourge. Sufferers were banished from villages, to live in isolation, as there was no cure. Banishment meant exclusion from religion, family and community. Imagine being banished, alive, yet no longer to experience the loving embrace of family or partner. In leprosy Samaritan and Jew were one in their affliction. 9 Jewish lepers and one Samaritan leper approached Jesus - from a distance and shouted for help. Jesus recognised in their plea the faith that he could make them well. He sent them to the priests to be examined. Levitical law required that a person must be examined by the priests before they could declared free of their disease. On the way they were healed. One, realising what had happened, turned back to thank Jesus.
Now you might expect Jesus would be impressed that at least one had returned to thank him, but he was not. The one man who returned praising God, fell at Jesus feet and thanked him. You might expect Jesus to commend the man for his manners in expressing gratitude. Instead, Jesus asks where the other 9 had gone. He then makes the pointed comment that of the 10, only one a foreigner returns to give praise to God. Luke is making the powerful statement through this story that it is not the people of Israel, but the outsiders, the unacceptable like the Samaritan, who demonstrate awareness and gratitude of the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven into their world.
In this story Luke establishes an understanding of gratitude that is related to our faith and the state of our souls. Luke creates the scene in which 10 people are given a gift - healing of their leprosy literally, salvation from death. All ten understand they have been made well. For 9 their healing overwhelms them and they are self obsessed with the immediacy of the change in their lives they are insensitive to the world around them, or to the one who gave them the gift. The tenth man also understands he is healed but he also is mindful of who gave it, and senses he must make an offering of thanks, and returns to Jesus praising God, and falling at Jesus feet.
Healing of leprosy was a profound event. It meant restoration to family, community, work, and religion. Were the 9 who failed to come back so preoccupied with the religious rituals they would undertake with the priests to achieve their return to society that they failed to remember to return to thank the one through whom they were saved? These 9 manifest the kind of perfunctory gratitude which says "thanks", but betray a mind primarily focussed on what is good for the individual. They knew they were healed, they knew they were to be restored and would do all that the law required of them, but they were thinking of themselves. There was nothing intrinsically bad about their behaviour, but it reveals something about their hearts. How often is our expression of gratitude similarly focussed on the benefit to us?
In contrast the 10th man , while profoundly aware of what his healing means for him, realises what he has been given and returns to give thanks to God and to the man through whom this gracious gift was made real. The Samaritan reveals a capacity to think beyond himself, to recognise that in Jesus he has received a miracle, and so responds by his praise of God, and his act of obeisance at the feet of the man who mediated this gift.
Looking as we usually do for the unusual in the gospel, we observe that Jesus response to the one who returned is not what you would expect. He does not directly praise the one, nor accept his thanks. He first asks where the other 9 are. When the man is acknowledged it is "this foreigner". Jesus makes a subtle distinction in what has taken place. The word in Greek he uses in describing the 9 is tharizo- "to be made clean or healed of a disease"). This not the same as the term he uses - "made you well," or "made you whole" (sozo), a condition often referred to as "salvation." When Jesus says, "your faith has made you well," sozo is the verb he uses.
One of Monty Pythons memorable sketches appeared in "Life of Brian". A group of Galilean zealots are harangued "What did the Romans ever do for us?" As they come up with a long list of answers including aqueducts, roads, safety, laws, health, and peace the leader still asks "But What did the Romans do for us?". Are we ever really grateful, do we really appreciate what we have been given? And if we do, how do we go about expressing gratitude for it?
This story identifies a difference between the states of nominal appreciation and being made clean, and a deeper gratitude and awareness of the gift and the giver, whose outcome is "being made well", or a wholeness in body, mind and spirit. The healing of ten lepers demonstrates that God invites every person to reflect on what they have received from God, and what that gift means for them. The choice of response lies before each person a cursory "thankyou", while thinking of what the next step in life will be, or a more profound expression of gratitude for grace freely given, which leads into more than healing, but profound wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
It might stir us to reflect on the ways we express gratitude. In enhancing communication there is a world of difference between a polite "Thanks" and a statement "I felt really special when you made me breakfast in bed". As in the gospel, a world between naming what I have received, and understanding the depth of care and thought (and love) invested in the deed. Indeed, to understand the act of giving is to accord honour upon the one who gives to you, in the same way that the Samaritan returned to Jesus to praise God for what he had received.
Today we have witnessed the baptism of two little children. In the same manner we might reflect on what has taken place for them, and move from there to reflect on our own baptism. A sign of Gods grace in which the promise is made that any offence or sin will be set aside by God where there is penitence. The promise of peace in our souls where all sin and guilt are rendered powerless to keep us apart from Gods love. Peace and a new beginning in the present time; assurance that not even the lonely journey into death will keep us apart from the love and care of God. Because as much as we celebrate them for Olivia and Archie, for Caitlin, for you and for me, these are present realities which we celebrate for ourselves again and again. The traditional words at Holy Communion what shall we render to the Lord for all his goodness to us? (Ps 116) are a reminder to consider carefully how we express our gratitude to God for what he has done for us.
Gratitude that finds expression in a whole hearted giving of time and ourselves in care and service of others. Gratitude that finds expression in regular worship and participation in the sacraments, for no other reason than we respond to the extraordinary grace of God with the most precious gift of the 21st Century, our time. Worship is no obligation, but something we freely and joyously offer in response to a gift that is beyond all earthly valuation? Gratitude that what we, and the children received, is to be found no where else, and by no other means, than this the mystery of water, of bread and wine, of Jesus words, of Gods promises.
Let gratitude be the inspiration for your every action with other people, and discover the wholeness of body mind and soul that may follow it. Amen.