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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the eyes and ears of frustrated parents around the world, Jesus had good cause for asking, “Where are the nine others? Were not ten healed?” Child psychologists have written that children even at the age of three are capable of learning manners. And so as soon as they begin to communicate their first words, parents should teach their children to say “please” and “thank you.” Mind you, psychologists also caution parents to keep their goals realistic. Sometimes, you just cannot get a 2-year-old to chew with their mouths closed. So focus instead on conveying the idea of manners, the concept that there are ways to behave and ways not to behave. That’s why the story of ten lepers would embarrass any dedicated, and manners sensitive mother or father.
We read that ten lepers were living on the outskirts of village in the frontier region between Samaria and Galilee. Early in his ministry, Jesus had healed a leper and the news had spread from village to village. Victims of leprosy, across the land from north to south had heard the amazing good news. These lepers had heard the story as well. No doubt, they were hoping that one day Jesus the miracle worker of Nazareth would come by and perhaps heal one of them. Week after week, they waited, but the weeks became months, and the months became years.
And then one day, as Jesus was journeying on his way to Jerusalem, he came upon that lonely, neglected leper colony at the edge of the village, and the lepers began shouting to him. There was wild excitement as they lifted their voices. “Lord, Jesus, have mercy on us. We need you.” And Jesus surprised them. He told them to go to the priest and get a certificate of health that they had been cured. On the way, the lepers noticed their white blotches began to leave them and they knew they were being healed. They were elated, and ecstatic and free. And off they ran as fast as they could go to see a spouse, or a parent or child whom they hadn’t seen for weeks, months, perhaps years. Yes, they were all thankful for the miracle of healing and the gift of health. But. then, only one remembered the giver of the gift, only one, and he returned and fell at Jesus’ feet, worshipped him, and thanked him. And Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine? Were not ten healed? And only you, a Samaritan, a foreigner whose neighbors are convinced has never been taught manners, has returned to say thank you. Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.”
As for the other nine? Now, they may have considered themselves to be very religious people who had learned good manners, and knew how to say please and thank you- as long as they needed God. But as soon as they were healed, they seemed to no longer have any need for God. I see that happen so often. People crying out in pain at the time of a divorce, a diagnosis of cancer, a heart attack, a death, a feared bankruptcy, “I need you Lord. My life is all messed up. I need your help, God.” But shortly thereafter, when the crisis has passed, life gets back to normal and they are not calling out to God anymore, nor giving thanks for their countless gifts- now taken for granted.
As one scholar pointed out, “the result and irony of the miracle was to drive these lepers away from God.” When they needed God, they were close to him; but when they didn’t need God, they were off busy being well” To a certain degree, I can understand that. After a dark night of the soul, the lepers wanted a normal life again. After being separated from their family and friends and work, and once they were healed, they were free to return to those former times and relationships. And so they became so busy, so quickly, that they no longer had time to feel gratitude for being healed. It can happen to every one of us- even those who have been taught and practiced good manners from their childhood. We can be too busy to have a life of gratitude towards God. Yes, you and I can find ourselves too busy for a word of grace before a meal or too busy for a prayer at bedtime. Or perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that the is polite etiquette is all too mechanical and rote anyway. So, when you are really grateful, you will let God know about it- in earnest.
That is the ultimate tragedy of the story. The nine lepers received the gift of healing, but they did not receive the healer; they experienced a miracle but not the miracle worker. They received the gift, but didn’t know and welcome the giver. We can act that way ourselves. We can be like the 6 year-old child at the birthday party. We are so thankful for the gift, the new toy train and the Barbie doll, that we forget the loving giver. We might say thank you, but it could be nothing more than a mechanical form of social etiquette. The words are spoken, and then, it’s on to the toys of life. We forget the love of the giver and healer of our broken souls.
So why was it the Samaritan that was the only one who returned. It may be because of familiarity. We can become so used to God blessing and caring for us; that we can begin to take God for granted; we can begin to expect his blessings as our God-given rights. When you become very familiar with someone, you often start to take that someone for granted, and that is what we often do with God. We take God’s blessings for granted. So it is no surprise to me that it was a foreigner, a Samaritan, an outsider of the religious establishment was the only one who paused and remembered and came back to Jesus to say thank you. The other nine expected God’s blessings, for the Samaritan is was a surprise. Perhaps, that is yours and my problem as well. We expect God’s blessing and we are disappointed with God when we don’t receive them.
But good manners of faith are not simply about saying the proper words of “please and thank you” at the correct time. It is not simply about attitude, it is ultimately about gratitude. It is a quality of life. It is the quality of faith that I witnessed in my mother-in-law, as she fought stomach cancer. She was in pain, but she would sigh, comforting those who were near to her, “All will be well.” It was the quality, I witnessed in my brother as he battled with leukemia, “It is what it is.” It is a rare human quality that can be nurtured and acquired like learning to say the words of “please and thank” even when there is pain and sorrow and uncertainty. I rather suspect that the Samaritan in the story had such a heart of gratitude even while living with leprosy.
You see, the miracle of the story is not about the healing of leprosy. There are many people whose healed lives are still broken. No, the wonder of the story is that in spite of the other nine choosing to move on, this Samaritan alone recognized that his true healing of body, mind and spirit, could only be realized by giving thanks to Jesus. It is just as true for you and me. It is a matter of gratitude. Our lives are never truly whole until we have returned to God giving thanks. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.