Harvard Health magazine writes, “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” It also has health benefits including being “strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
Gratitude is a virtue and shows us a lot about where our hearts and souls are at. We see this especially in this story about 10 lepers who meet Jesus. Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. People feared leprosy in Jesus’ time and lepers were isolated from everyone else, considered unclean and not allowed in the temple. People believed that leprosy was God’s punishment for sins. In this simple story we see people who are outsiders and who respond to Jesus with faith, the belief and trust in things unseen, as Hebrews puts it. Reading this story in Jesus’ life, I tried looking at it as if I was one of the lepers.
The sun is out and the day is hot. We’re sitting together, all us lepers and we can see people going and coming from the village. We don’t want to admit it to each other, but deep inside we’re hoping to see some of our loved ones, praying to our God that they are doing alright since we can’t take care of them or protect them. Life hasn’t gone the way we thought and each of us keeps looking back at our lives wondering what we did that was so wrong and evil that God has decided to punish us with this dreaded disease that has caused everybody, including our families to reject us and cast us out. Even though there are 10 of us here, we each suffer alone knowing that our life and death is going to be painful and filled with great suffering. Then we see a group of people coming towards the village and one of the other lepers cries out that it’s Jesus, he knows this because he had seen Jesus before and heard him teach about God, but he had also heard a story that Jesus had actually healed another leper, that he actually touched the leper when he healed him. Can it be that Jesus isn’t afraid of leprosy? If he can heal me, that means Jesus has power from God to heal and in healing us shows us that God forgives us from the horrible sin that brought this disease on us.
Suddenly there’s hope, we climb to our feet and move towards the road to the village so we can all out to Jesus, praying to God Almighty that he will hear us and have pity on us. We can see some of them notice us and draw away from us in fear and horror and we begin to cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Will Jesus hear us, will he help us, can he help us, was the story true? So many questions go through my head as we see Jesus stop. As Jesus stops, we stop shouting, waiting to hear him. “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus tells us. Could this mean, is it possible that our leprosy is gone, otherwise why tell us to go to the priests.
One of the other lepers starts running to the road that goes to Jerusalem where the priests can be found, and without even thinking, I start to follow him. As I’m running down the road, I look down at my hands and the sores are gone, my feet feel healthy for the first time in a long time. Then I remember that in the excitement of everything, I had forgotten to thank Jesus. I stopped and called out to the others, but they keep running. I turn around and come to Jesus and I throw myself at his feet, tears pouring out of my eyes, it’s the first time since I discovered I had leprosy that I could come close to someone not cursed by God. All I could say was “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The tears were choking my throat because I realized that I could come close to God in the temple, that my sins could be forgiven and washed away.
Through my tears I could hear Jesus speaking again. He asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then I knew that Jesus was from God, because how else could he have known that I was the only Samaritan among the other lepers. Imagine, wonder of wonders, Jesus healed me even though I’m not even a Jew! He’s changed my life! He’s made me clean, inside and out, I’m no longer rejected, I’m accepted, and could it also mean that God accepts me too even though I’m only a Samaritan? Jesus turns to me, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” It is well with me, well with my body and well with my soul. Praise the Lord!
We’re celebrating Thanksgiving Day and as followers of Jesus we know that our greatest reason to be thankful, to be grateful to Jesus is for saving us from our sin, from the soul sickness that comes from being sinners. Jesus cleans our souls, but through faith, he also brings healing, restoration and hope into our lives. Jesus changes us, makes us well. And so we live with a spirit of gratitude because we know that we’ve done nothing to deserve God’s blessings, it’s all about God’s grace and Jesus’ unconditional love for us. Through our faith, which itself is a gift from God, we find salvation and new life and we respond with thankfulness to Jesus and give our lives over to him.