Settle in for the last two courses of a “sermon meal” I have enjoyed for the last 19 years at Thanksgiving. Again, credit goes to the late Rev. Dr. Barbara Lewis-Lakin, who kindly gave me a copy when I told her how much it had changed the way I view God and the Bible. She has helped us see each of the “ungrateful lepers” who were healed in uniquely wonderful ways (see the last three posts for more of this lovely meal):
The ninth leper was taught carefully and unceasingly to write than you letters. It’s a good, polite thing to do when it’s genuine. My grandmother used to write thank you notes back to me when I sent her thank you notes, to thank me for the thank you note. I always had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to write a thank you for her thank you for my thank you for the original gift. So if you are trained like this, we may ask, what is wrong with these nine people who didn’t say thank you? Didn’t they have mothers or grandmothers?
This ninth was a rebellious fellow. He remembered all the times that his mother had made him say thank you when he didn’t want to and all the times he had tried to, but it just wasn’t enough. And so when Jesus healed him, he responded with all that pent up hostility around receiving gifts, and he chose for once in his life not to say thank you. I suspect later that day he realized that he had not acknowledged probably the most important gift of his life and felt pretty guilty about that, but at the time it sure felt good to rebel.
Ten were healed and only one returned. In this Thanksgiving text only one gave thanks and that was the Samaritan, the one no one would expect to give thanks. The one who was on the outside, not only because of his leprosy, but because of his culture. In giving thanks, he was brought into relationship with Jesus.
The nine who did not return missed out on a chance for a relationship like they had never before experienced. The one who returned was experiencing one of the secrets of life — that the act of giving thanks contributes to wholeness because it brings the one who receives into a sacred relationship with the one who gives.
The nine who left missed the secret.
Ten were cleansed and only one returned. What else is there to say about that? That the real point is not that one returned but that ten were cleansed. Maybe…that condemnation is easier than understanding. That if we take the time to investigate the reasons why people act as they do, we would find them quite understandable and totally forgivable…and even completely reasonable? Maybe…
That it is good to give thanks. Yes. That it is understandable not to give thanks. Yes. That God does not heal people and then stand around waiting for us to say thank you and then get angry and have hurt feelings if we don’t. Yes, all of this is true…
(But there’s even more to this story — and tomorrow you’ll receive the crowning conclusion 🙂