Readings: 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Psalm 66:1-12; Luke 17:11-19
Let Gratitude be your Attitude
The Greatest Hitter in the World
A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, wearing his baseball cap, and toting a ball and bat. “I’m the greatest hitter in the world,” he announced. Then, he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. “Strike One!” he yelled. Undaunted, he picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”
He tossed the ball into the air. When it came down, he swung again and missed. “Strike Two!” he cried. The boy then paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. He spit on his hands and rubbed them together. He straightened his cap and said once more, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!”
Again, he tossed the ball up in the air and swung at it. He missed. “Strike Three!”
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”
It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Thanksgiving is a good time for us to consider our outlook on life! This is a time where our country encourages us to remember the many and varied ways we are blessed. This ought to be second nature for us as Christians because we ‘give thanks’ each week when we worship together, most especially when we celebrate ‘Eucharist’ – a word that literally means ‘thanksgiving.’
But the reality is that we sometimes forget to give thanks. Perhaps this is due to excessive busyness, or maybe we are going through such a dark time that it has become difficult for us to think of things we are grateful for. Or, perhaps it is as simple as Aldous Huxley once said, “most human beings have an absolute and infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
10 Healed Lepers
Let’s explore our gospel story about the 10 healed lepers to see if we can discern possible reasons for the 9 to have forgotten to return to Jesus to give thanks. Firstly, we learn two things about the setting of the story: it occurs while Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem; and secondly, it takes place outside a village in an area between Galilee and Samaria. Why was Jesus headed to Jerusalem? What was to happen there?
Luke the storyteller constantly reminds his readers that Jesus is on his way to suffer and die at the hands of the authorities in Jerusalem, and on the third day he would rise from the dead. The reminders of his destination function to keep readers on track – Jesus was on a mission; his teachings and miracles were always under the shadow of his own trial and tribulation. Indeed, the displays of his healing power in this and other miracle stories are but foretastes of the restorative force streaming from the empty tomb.
Pain Can Bring People Together
The geographical location of this story is also significant. The town is a place of diverse peoples who, under normal circumstances, would not be associated with each other (Jews and Samaritans in those days despised each other). But their common malady, their communal pain, brings them together.
They are the alcoholics of AA brought together by their struggle with a common addiction. They are the members of a ‘grief support group’ or a ‘divorce recovery group.’ They are patients in hospice waiting for the day when their suffering will be over. They are the people of St. George’s/St John’s: a diverse community brought together by a common understanding of human frailty, and a mutual need for God’s grace.
The suffering these 10 lepers endured was not limited to their physical pain; their disease required them to live outside the city gates to limit their contact with the healthy. They are cut off from family and friends, and what’s more, they are cut off from their faith. Leprosy was seen as the physical manifestation of sin; and it made one ceremonially unclean. Thus, lepers were forced to live on the outskirts of society and were prevented from attending religious services.
Pain Can Lead to Bitterness
In a way I can understand why only 1 leper out of 10 stopped to give thanks and praise to God for his healing. A disease or chronic illness can all too often afflict the soul as well as the body. Someone who is in intense physical or emotional pain can have great difficulty believing in a God who is supposed to be both loving and all-powerful. They may harbour deep resentment toward God for their situation, with bitterness festering deep in the heart.
I wonder if the nine lepers felt entitled to their healing? Maybe they felt they’d suffered long enough, and when their miracle finally came, they thought, ‘It’s about time!’ When we feel life has been unfair to us it’s easy to take the good things that do come for granted. Or maybe they were just genuinely caught up in the excitement of having received their miracle? Maybe they became too focused on the result that they forgot where the result came from? Maybe they were too focused on the gift that they neglected the Giver?
Jesus Offers More than Physical Healing
Whatever the reason, the nine who did not stop to thank Jesus and praise God may have been healed of their illness, but their hearts were not yet made whole. Ingratitude may the deadliest of vices because it keeps us from being able to recognize God’s Presence in and around us each moment. When we are ungrateful, we cannot see our lives, our very existence, as gift. But when we practice gratitude (and please note, it is a practice for it takes work!) we are essentially choosing to put on grace-coloured glasses when we view the world.
Putting on Grace-Coloured Glasses
Let me explain. In school, one of the first things we learn is that we are all biased in some way, and it’s best we acknowledge it. Our upbringing, personality, hurts and triumphs will impact how we see the world. And we must recognize this truth in order to be more honest with ourselves, and each other. As people of faith, we are biased in that we believe in a God who loves us and is redeeming the world. If this is true, then all around us should be signs of God’s redeeming love. So, we put on ‘grace-coloured glasses’ and make the choice to see our lives, and the whole world, from the perspective of God’s loving activity.
When we do this, seemingly random events like having a good conversation with a family member, making a new friend, or enjoying a good meal, take on new significance. These things don’t ‘just happen’ – they are gifts to be thankful for – instances that God uses to lift us out of the dark moments of life. And when we intentionally give thanks for these gifts, their power to heal and transform us is amplified because we make the connection between our lives and God’s life. That’s what happens for the one thankful leper – he is able to connect the physical healing he received to God’s grace, and his faith-filled proclamation of praise brought him into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Making Decisions out of Gratitude
Life is filled with ups and downs – that goes for our personal lives, and our lives together as a faith community. And we are continually confronted by the need to make key decisions. We cannot make these decisions from a place of negativity or despair arising from ingratitude. We must take the time to discern God’s blessings in our lives, that we may be filled with a greater sense of God’s love, so that we may make free and even joyful decisions together.
The coming months are important for this parish to discern a path forward. We may very easily recall the challenges and disappoints of our past and present, but it is essential we also take time to give thanks for the ways we have enjoyed God’s presence in this church. Like the grateful leper, we can be fully aware of our need and also be quick to respond to God’s grace with praise and thanksgiving!
So, let’s let gratitude be our attitude. Let’s practice it by giving thanks always and at all times, in seasons of light, and in seasons of darkness. Say a thank you to God in your heart and mind each time you perceive grace at work in your day. Give thanks before sharing a meal. Tell someone today you are thankful for their life and love. Make it your habit. I’ll close with this prayer:
“Even though I clutch my blankets and groan when the alarm rings each morning, thank you, Lord, that I can hear. There are those who are deaf. Even though I keep my eyes tightly closed against the morning light as long as possible, thank you, Lord, that I can see. There are many who are blind.
Even though I huddle in my bed and put off the physical effort of rising, thank you, Lord, that I have the strength to rise. There are many who are bedfast. Even though the first hour of my day is hectic, when socks are lost, toast is burned, tempers are short, thank you, Lord, for my family. There are many who are lonely.
Even though our table never looks like the pictures in the magazines and the menu is at times unbalanced. Thank you, Lord, for the food we have. There are many who are hungry. Even though the routine of my job is often monotonous, thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to work. There are many who have no work. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of life.”