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.”
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly, they ran for the nearest fence. The raging bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make the fence. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!” John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.” “But you must!” implored his companion, “the bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” screamed John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’ ” Ha! Lord have mercy!
Our passage comes to us from Luke 17 where Jesus is instructing his disciples as he heads towards Jerusalem. It opens with Jesus teaching the disciples about the way to live of Christ and them asking him to increase their faith. What follows is the story of the mustard seed. If they had such a minute amount of faith the size of a mustard seed, they could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. The mulberry tree is a deeply rooted sycamore. It is not easily transplanted anywhere. Jesus is trying to tell them they just have to do it. They have to believe. They have to not only talk the talk, but put their money where their mouth is, walking the walk.
Luke ends the section of the story by Jesus coming across the 10 lepers. They were yelling at him because under Levitical law they had to be 50 yards, half a football field away from him because they had leprosy. Also under Levitical law they had to report to the priests. Leviticus 13:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.’ ” Jesus, in instructing these ten lepers to appear before the priests, does so with the UNDERSTANDING that they will be healed before they reach the priests.
These men and by extension their families had lived isolated lives. All 10 of these men had to announce their sickness and they had to do so loud enough so that no one would accidentally rub up against them or touch them in any way. Again in Leviticus 13:45, “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’.” It truly would have changed their lives and the lives of their families and their families families. It would have transformed them into full members of society. For such a transformation, why did only 1 go back?
We may think to ourselves, I would have gone back. The other nine were so ungrateful. Jesus had given them their lives back, how dare they not go back to thank Jesus? How dare they be so ungrateful?
But would we? Or do we take for granted God’s blessings. Do we somehow forget to say thank you because of our busyness, our ambivalence, or our nonchalance about Who truly brings the great good to our lives?
We are much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought about it and handed the orange back and said, “Peel it.”
We forget to say “thank you” to God quite a bit. We think that we’ve earned our blessings or we somehow deserve them, don’t we? Just like we’ve earned that piece of pie after a hard run? Just like we think we deserve that glass of wine after a hard day of work and parenting?
Hate to break it to us, what we have, everything we are, all of it is because of the Triune God – God, the creator, Jesus, our redeemer, the Holy Spirit, our comforter. And the Samaritan knew that. “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 what did Jesus say to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” He exemplified what the psalmist wrote and we read earlier tonight in Psalm 138, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart.” He knew for sure and for certain that nothing he could ever do and nothing he could ever pay, could earn him or buy him Jesus’ transforming healing and power.
Robert C. Morgan in his book, “Lift High the Cross,” tells about a woman who has a gift shop on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Her name is Frieda Hannah. Frieda is a Palestinian Christian. She makes beautiful embroidery and cross-stitch work. Her specialties are altar paraments, clergy stoles, and Bible markers. She is a very frail woman. She has been in business at the same spot, the sixth station of the cross, for more than thirty years. Her eyes are beginning to fail her. She must wear thick glasses. If you go by Frieda’s shop you will see her smiling and greeting the tourists. She has made friends with thousands.
A teacher tells about being in her shop one day with a group of students. Another large group of pilgrims from America were in the shop, too. All of the members of this second group had their Bibles under their arms and crosses hanging from their necks. They were pushing and shoving, demanding to be waited on. A group of little Palestinian beggars had followed the group into the shop asking for money. These “Christian” tourists were indignant. The teacher said they made comments like, “Get these dirty kids out of here.” Or, “Why don’t they stay in Jordan where they belong?”
Frieda overheard these remarks. The teacher was embarrassed and apologized for his fellow Americans, even though he did not even know them. Frieda’s response was, “Oh, that is all right. I learned a long time ago that many of those who [take] the Bible literally don’t take it seriously.”
Frieda certainly takes the Bible seriously. During the last thirty years, using the earnings from her little shop, she has given over 1,000 Palestinian youth a higher education in North America or Europe. She has built and supported the operation of three medical clinics in the West Bank. She has built and operates two orphanages. There is no way of determining the good that this Christian woman has done over the years.
Frieda Hannah is a modest person. She is always embarrassed to talk about what she does. When asked on one occasion where she gets the energy and determination, she responded, “God did not place me in this world just to take up space. It is not enough just to go along. God wants me to make a difference where I can.”
All of our blessings were given us by God. God entrusts us to be good stewards of God’s gifts just like Frieda. Let the blessings flow through your outstretched hands and let the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right place. Let the blessings flow and be thankful.
I couldn’t help but have the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw come to mind as I was writing this Thanksgiving Eve sermon. It was written by Lori McKenna for her husband and their five kids as her list of all the things she wanted to make sure she’d told them.
You know there’s a light that glows by the front door
Don’t forget the keys under the mat
Childhood star shine, always stay humble and kind
Go to church ’cause your momma says to
Visit grandpa every chance that you can
It won’t be a waste of time
Always stay humble and kind
Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re goin’
Don’t forget turn back around
Help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind
Hold the door say please say thank you
Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind
When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride but
Always stay humble and kind
We, as Christians, get to not only be humble and kind, but to spread the joy, praise, and thanksgiving that the leper proclaimed! We GET to do that. We have the BLESSING of doing that! A sour attitude spreads like spilled sour milk getting into the nooks and crannies and infects us, but if we believe in the faith of a mustard seed and a faith that the Great Physician, can even make us sinners, WELL, and we’ll be on the path to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.