Then one of the lepers, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” – Luke 17:15-19
Fred Craddock, preacher and scholar, says of this Gospel story, “lepers tended to avoid contact with non-lepers. They kept close enough to populated areas, on the outskirts, to access charity. The verse, Your faith has made you well refers to some blessing other than the cleansing of leprosy, which had been given to all ten lepers. This additional blessing refers to gratitude.” Craddock reminds us that since all lepers receive healing there is no judgement here against the Jews, no favouring of the gentiles. Rather what this story teaches us is the example of the foreigner, the Samaritan, who does not take blessings for granted.
How true it is that newcomers, those who arrive in our midst and take nothing for granted, teach us the value of gratitude. The immigrants whom we meet in our historical city of Halifax teach us this lesson every day. Those of us who have lived here for generations often fail to recognize what the newcomer can see with a clear and open mind. What a blessing it is to meet someone new who sees what we pass over and miss.
Last night at the church I serve on Sunday evenings I was the recipient of a blessing. For my birthday I received a “flash mob”. If you don’t know what that is please google it now. 14 people rose from their chairs to surround me in singing “Angels Watching Over Me”. I have never heard this group song so beautifully, and it was one of my favorite hymns. I was impressed. The trouble is I did not know how to handle it. I worried they were going to hug me, and I don’t like hugs. But more to the point I no longer know how to handle praise or thanksgiving directed toward me. My wife Kim constantly needs to remind me to say, “You’re welcome”.
A while back I found myself in a situation where I had come to be addicted to praise, I had become a “people pleaser” and that addiction got me into some trouble. I was in a church where suddenly there was no praise. It unnerved me and I did not handle it well. I worked through that, I resolved never, ever to seek or acknowledge any form of praise. That decision, radical as it was, has been so helpful to me and my sense of peace. I find myself more grounded, less needy and all around happier. Everyone who knows me well sees a difference.
But the change came with a cost. I cannot accept any praise and last night was a classic example. I was most uncomfortable and did not know what to do or say. The gracious, caring and loving thing to do was to say, “Thank you”. But like the nine lepers who received the blessing and went on their way I mumbled my way through the night and then headed home, still somewhat unnerved by the experience.
Being kind and considerate is large part of the walk with Jesus. But so is expressing thanksgiving and gratitude. It took a flash mob of fellow travellers to show me the error of my ways. Their faith made me well.