Legend has it that a man once found the barn where Satan kept the seed to be sown in human hearts. He saw that the seed of discouragement was the most numerous of Satan’s seeds, and learned that those seeds would grow almost anywhere. Then he spoke with Satan and learned that there was one place where he could never get them to thrive. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful man.”
Now while you are thinking about being grateful, you can be grateful you are not a Samaritan leper. The Israelites despised the Samaritans with a passion.
- Samaritans worshiped God in Shechem rather than Jerusalem.
- Samaritans had their own version of the Bible.
- Israelites considered Samaritans to be racially impure, because many of them had intermarried with neighboring tribes.
Sometimes I think it is easier to tolerate different in people who are not like you. It can be very hard to tolerate different in people who are like you in so many ways but just turned out “wrong.”. You have the same roots after all. I do know that to the Israelites, the Samaritans were worse than heathen, because the Samaritans had the precious heritage in their hands, and had defiled it.
So you already have the Samaritan strike against you. On top of that you are a leper..
- Leprosy was an infections disease, and so no one wanted to be near you.
- You would not be allowed to enter towns or to mix with people.
- You would not be able to work or beg because they can’t get close to people.
- On top of all this, you have this horrible disease that has no known cure, and it is a horrible progressive disease.
So Jesus met a group of ten lepers. That wouldn’t have been strange. Lepers couldn’t mix with other people, so they formed their own groups. Think of it as a support group.
These lepers called, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Their situation was hopeless, but they had heard that Jesus had the power to heal.
Jesus said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” I think it is interesting that Jesus does not just heal them. He gives them something to do and they are obedient to Him.
Priests diagnosed leprosy. That was one of the things they did. When you were suspected of having leprosy, the Bible required you to go to the priest. If the priest said that you had leprosy, you had to leave town. If you thought that you were healed, you again saw the priest. If he said that you were healed, you could come back into the town. That is the way the system worked.
So Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The Bible says, “As they went, they were cleansed.” I can think of a lot of people who might think they would want to healed first before they could be bothered, but when they left the presence of Jesus they were still lepers. When they arrived at the temple, they were not.
Leprosy is ugly when it is advanced. The skin would have been covered with sores and scabs. The sores were deep and ugly, eating away at the flesh. They were transformed as they did what Jesus told them to do, and were healed when they arrived.
One minute they are outcasts with a death sentence. They got a stay of execution and permission to go home.
The lack of community and human contact would have to have been very hard for these lepers. You can imagine they were anxious to get home. They could see families again and give children a hug. I can understand the temptation to think “OK, I am healed now, how far is it to my house?”
One of the lepers stopped though and went back to find Jesus. He wanted to get back to his family as much as anyone else, but he was grateful for what Jesus had done for him. He went back and threw himself at the feet of Jesus in sincere gratitude for all that Jesus had done for him.
Jesus told the healed leper, “Get up, and go your way. Your faith has healed you.” The Gospel of Luke was written originally in Greek, and the word that is translated “healed” here can also mean “saved.”
When I read this story, I like to think that Jesus was telling this man that his faith had healed him and that his faith had saved him, because I believe that both were true.
I also like the fact that Jesus said, “Get up, and go your way.” He knew that the man needed to go home. He knew that the man had made a real sacrifice to come back to Jesus and say thanks. Jesus knew that the man needed him to give him permission to return home, and so Jesus gave him that permission.
But what does this scripture have to do with us? Obviously, if our flesh is rotting off our bones and Jesus heals us, we should give thanks. But that doesn’t happen every day, does it? What is the connection between this story and our lives?
That isn’t hard to answer, is it? This scripture is about thankfulness, and we need to remember to thank God for His gifts, great and small. That is easier said than done.
Stop and think about that for a moment. We tend not to be thankful, because we are are used to having so much. You would think that, the more we have, the more thankful we would be, but it doesn’t work that way. We begin to take it for granted. We start to assume that we earned it. Then we get upset that we don’t have more. Before long, God is nowhere to be found in the picture.
The richer we are, the more difficult it is to remember to be thankful. We need to make a special effort to say thanks to God. We need to say thanks to our husband or wife. We need to be grateful for and gracious to our children and to the people we work with. We have been blessed in so many ways.
Some counsel for all of us: “It’s a good thing to get caught up on thanking before we do any more asking.”
Suppose we had to get caught up on thanking before we could ask for anything else. What if that were the rule? Can you imagine trying to remember the blessings of your lifetime? For that matter, can you imagine trying to remember the blessings of this past week? For that matter, can you imagine trying to remember this morning’s blessings? I know I am grateful for
- my warm bed
- the roof over my head
- the food I ate
- my family
- my job and this congregation
And that is just the beginning. If you had to list all your blessings, you would have to list all the bad things that didn’t happen to you today. How long would that take?
Thanks be to God that He doesn’t require that. But this scripture does teach us about the disappointment God felt for the nine who failed to give thanks and the joy God felt for the one who did.
I want us to resolve to follow the example of this one and to give thanks for God’s gifts, great and small in our lives.
I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Sermon preached by Fr. Tom at St. Thomas Episcopal – Plymouth
October 9, 2016; Twenty-first Sunday of Pentecost – Proper 23
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15