As we approach Thanksgiving Day later this month, I was moved by this reading from Luke 17:11-19 yesterday....
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, 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.”I think there are at least five lessons on thanksgiving we can learn from the lepers in this story. The first lesson is that we all have a reason to thank God.
The ten lepers had at least three reasons to thank God. First, Jesus met them where they were. Jesus did not have to pass by that village where the lepers lived. However, in the providence of God the Father, Jesus passed by.
You did not have to read this blog post today. However, in God's providence you are here now, reading these words. This moment is an opportunity for you to meet God in worship. Every moment, every breath that we breathe, is a reason to thank God. Whenever we approach our life, our day, with an attitude of gratitude, then we are like that one former leper who came back to Jesus to say, "Thank you."
A second reason the lepers in this story had for giving thanks was because God in Christ heard their cry for pity and saw their need. I suppose in some ultimate sense God does not have to listen to any of our cries. He does not have to look at us in our need, but in his grace he does see us and hear us.
We have reason to thank God today because he hears us. 1 John 5:14 says, "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." The most important thing in prayer is to be heard, just as in human relationships sometimes what we need most is someone to simply listen to us. When we go to God in prayer, spiritually covered by the blood of Jesus shed for sin, praying according to his will, God hears us. What a miracle to be thankful for!
A third reason the lepers had to be thankful was because God in Christ met their needs. Jesus healed them of a terrible disease. Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by bacteria and characterized by the formation of nodules that enlarge and spread, accompanied by loss of sensation and eventual paralysis, wasting of muscle, and production of deformities and mutilations. As Charles Allen once wrote about these lepers, "They were ten wretched, forsaken, disheartened men. They all were hopeless. They had leprosy, and there was no cure for leprosy. The truth of the matter is leprosy was death, except it was death a little bit at a time--an arm, a leg, an ear. It was a horrible death and thought to be highly contagious. So these lepers were driven out. They couldn't associate with anybody. They were hopeless and helpless." But then Jesus came. He was not afraid to come near them. And he healed their disease.
God meets all sorts of needs for each one of us, all the time. Oftentimes we are unaware of how God has been working behind the scenes to help us. Nonetheless, we have many reasons to be thankful.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. said his mother had told him to always thank God for what was left. If you have enough breath left to complain, you have something left. Even after Dr. King had lost his two sons, and his beloved wife had been shot to death at the organ in their church sanctuary, Dr. King was still preaching, "Thank God for what is left." There is always enough left to thank God for.
Tomorrow we will look at a second lesson I think we can learn from the lepers whom Jesus healed....