What the world needs now is more gratitude. Thanks to social media, our cell phones have become a constant stream of stories that cause us to be anxious and afraid. Sure, there’s an occasional post of vacation pics from our friends, cute animal videos, or inspirational quotes. But most of it is doom and gloom. This has a dramatic effect on our hearts and minds. The end result is that, if we let it get the best of us, it leaves us in a constant state of worry.
This worry not only permeates individuals, it permeates nations as well. Have you noticed how many countries are circling the wagons these days? It’s a fear-based self-defense mechanism. Instead of coming together to solve what ails our planet, we continue to isolate ourselves from each other. We distrust those who are different from us. I believe the main driving force behind our global fear is the feeling of not having enough. Not enough jobs. Not enough resources. Not enough clean air and water. Not enough. You fill in the blanks. But the main driving force behind our global fear is the feeling of not having enough.
The solution to what ails us, as individuals, as a nation, and as a planet, is cultivating a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is a transformational force to be reckoned with. When we are grateful, when we focus on what’s going right in our lives and in our world, it opens up our hearts. It causes us to be more generous. It builds bridges of trust and harmony, instead of constructing walls of suspicion and hostility.
When we are grateful, our anxiety level decreases; our fear of not having enough is greatly diminished, or disappears altogether. Make no mistake about it, what the world needs now is more gratitude. We’ve got an ample surplus of fear, moral outrage, and anger. But gratitude is in danger of becoming instinct, and we will pay a heavy price for it.
Just in case you think I’m trying to sell you a lofty platitude that has no basis in reality, our gospel lesson indicates that Jesus thought gratitude was pretty important as well. As the story begins, Jesus is in the border region between Samaria and Galilee. He is crossing boundaries and wandering where he probably shouldn’t go. If he were a good rabbi Jesus would focus his ministry on the children of Abraham. But here he is, once again, venturing into Samaritan territory, building bridges instead of building walls. Jesus has no fear of those who are different from him for whatever reason.
I like that about Jesus! In this sense, he’s a bad rabbi, a rebel, who often ignored social and cultural norms to bring hope and healing to everyone. While this may seem like an insignificant detail in the story, it’s where we learn an important lesson about gratitude: Jesus is in the blessing business. He blesses whoever he wants to bless. They don’t have to earn it or deserve it. Jesus is an equal opportunity blesser. It didn’t matter whether they were Jewish or Gentile, male or female, a pillar of society or an outcast, Jesus blessed those who were open to receiving the gifts he had to offer.
This reminds us that we do not receive blessings from Jesus because we’re good little Christians. We receive blessings from Jesus because they are a gift; given to people who are a little rough around the edges. Therefore, we should grateful for the blessings we receive, not because we worked hard enough, or had enough faith, for Jesus to reward us. We are filled with gratitude because we recognize that EVERYTHING we have is a gift from our Savior. Jesus blesses us because this is his heart’s desire. And for that, we should be truly grateful!
This goes against the message I’m hearing from some segments of Christianity these days who are quick to say who Jesus will or will not bless. This results in a lack of gratitude because blessing is seen as a reward for doing good, rather than a gift of grace. The sooner we can see it as a gift, the better off we’ll be and the more gratitude we will experience in our lives.
As the story continues, Jesus encounters a group of ten lepers. They were labeled by this in their community as “unclean” and “outcasts.” They were forbidden to enter the village and contact their loved ones. They lived in desperate conditions, probably in caves with other lepers. They depended on the pity of others, who left scraps of food and other provisions a safe distance from their cave.
This is why Luke tells us that these ten lepers “kept their distance” from Jesus. They are quarantined from the rest of the village and are forbidden to have any physical contact with others. They know their place, and so they only come within shouting distance.
These ten desperate people cry out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!” The Greek word used here is ELEEO. It is always used by the sick and suffering who appeal to Jesus for relief of their pain. It is most commonly translated as “have pity on us” but it also means “have compassion on us.” In other words, they are asking Jesus to sympathize with their plight and walk in their shoes for a moment. As they beg Jesus to “have mercy” on them, life had taught them to expect little in return: a loaf of bread, perhaps, or a warm blanket, if they were really lucky.
But as I said before, Jesus is in the blessing business. He doesn’t offer scraps pity or morsels of compassion. He chooses grace overflowing. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” he says. This means the priests are the only ones who could certify the lepers as “clean” and allow them to return to the village. The ten lepers follow his orders, and on the way to the village they are made clean.
Now, at this point in the story, it’s important to recognize that all ten are made clean. Jesus didn’t ask them to do anything to earn this healing. He gave it to them as a gift; grace overflowing with no strings attached. This only serves to reinforce the observation I made earlier in the sermon: Jesus is in the blessing business. He blesses whoever he wants to bless. They don’t have to earn it or deserve it. Jesus is an equal opportunity blesser.
I am certain these healed lepers had hearts that were overflowing with joy when they realized they were cleansed. I’m certain the reunions they had with their families were tearful and joyous. All were healed. All received grace overflowing. But one was about to receive an extra blessing. Luke tells us this one is a Samaritan, which is not surprising considering the geographic location of the story. This means he is an outsider, one whom most rabbis would say was not worthy to be blessed by God.
This tenth leper turns back to express his gratitude. He falls at Jesus’ feet in a posture of worship to give thanks. In response to this man’s offering of thanksgiving, Jesus asks an obvious question that was loaded with meaning, “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 Jesus said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
As the story comes to its conclusion, it’s important to mention that the other nine did nothing wrong. They did what Jesus commanded them to do. They were healed just like the one who was kneeling at Jesus’ feet. But this tenth leper received a second blessing. Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well. This doesn’t mean he earned his healing. The Greek word translated here as “well” means “to be made whole.” What I think Jesus is saying, is that by expressing his gratitude this leper was not only physically healed, he also experienced shalom: peace and wholeness. Jesus gave the gift. This man not only received the gift, but he named it and was grateful for it. This is how he received a second blessing.
Friends in Christ, what we learn from this story is the importance of being grateful for the blessings we receive in life. When we express gratitude on a regular basis, it changes the way we feel about the world around us. It makes us less suspicious of the “other,” and more trusting of those who are different from us. It inspires us to be generous rather than always being fearful that there is not enough to go around. So let’s be intentional about cultivating an attitude of gratitude. It really is what the world needs now. Amen.
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck