…The Third really wasn’t grateful. He had realized that he had not really wanted to be healed from his disease. That he did not know what to do or how to live or even who he was without his leprosy. Although it had been his fervent plea to be healed, he now began to see how much he had needed his leprosy and consequently how necessary it had been in defining him as a person. Jesus had taken away his identity.
For so many people their personhood is defined by the disease they have — the hemophiliac, the epileptic, the diabetic, the cancer patient the schizophrenic — sometimes our language even talks about people in terms of their illness. Our hopes can be linked with our sickness —when we are sick we get attention we don’t get when we are well, when we are sick we get love we don’t always get when we are well. People cook meals for us, or drive us places, or do our shopping for us. Illness doesn’t always feel bad. So take away the illness from someone whose role in life has been defined by it, whether that felt good or not, and that person is lost. They have to take care of themselves now. They have to pick up their bed and walk (to use scriptural language). Have you ever heard anyone say when asked about themselves that they “enjoy poor health?” It’s kind of an old-fashioned phrase, but it says a lot about us, doesn’t it? We talk much more consistently about our pain than about our joy, because it’s easier, because it feels good to complain. Healing is not always what we really want, so it’s hard to be thankful when healing happens. Sometimes to be healed is to be lost.
It is difficult to explain the reason why the fourth person did not return to give thanks. Perhaps because it is such a simple reason —and perhaps because it’s too close to us to even talk about it. The Fourth did not return because in her delirium of joy, she forgot. She forgot. That’s all. She was so happy that she forgot. When true joy is a part of our lives it makes us speechless; it makes us forget the times we felt depressed or lonely. It makes us feel as if it will last forever. Perhaps our expressions of joy are a type of thank you, but most of the time, like the fourth person, we are so caught up in feeling wonderful, we forget to acknowledge the gift of life. It just feels so good, nothing else matters and so we forget to pause. It has been said, if the only prayer you say in your whole life is “thank you” that would suffice. We just forget to offer such a simple prayer.
The Fifth was unable to say thank you to anybody any more. There is something that happens to a person who must beg and who is shunned by their neighbors — a person who is grudgingly thrown a few coins and is always expected to say ‘thank you’ in the face of it all. That person just doesn’t say thank you any more to anybody — not even to Jesus. There is so much they need and so much they are denied it is hard to find a place of gratitude. When the political, cultural or religious system works by keeping them in their place of need it is difficult to be grateful.
(The insightful interpretations from a sermon preached by the late Rev. Dr. Barbara Lewis-Lakin on Thanksgiving weekend, 2003, at Chelsea First United Methodist Church continue tomorrow with Lepers 6, 7, and 8)