This Sunday is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and we know that the celebration of this cherished national holiday will be different this year. Our family usually has more than 20 people together for Thanksgiving dinner, but not this year. We won’t be gathering together for dinner and football. We won’t be bringing out the dominoes for a game of Chicken Foot. There’ll be no family pictures taken. It will be a different Thanksgiving holiday, for sure, but one thing will remain: We will remember to do what the holiday is supposed to remind us to do: give thanks.
Our scripture for Sunday is from the gospel of Luke, illustrating how easy it is to neglect giving thanks. It is the story of Jesus encountering ten lepers on the way to Jerusalem in the region between Samaria and Galilee. In the Bible, leprosy refers not only to Hanson’s disease, but to a broad range of skin diseases. The law, as recorded in Leviticus 13:45-46, meant that a leper had a very difficult life: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled, and he shall . . . cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ . . . He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Imagine living that life — separated from your family, subsisting on alms given by strangers, having to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn away the unsuspecting, and on top of all that, suffering from the disease itself. What a terrible existence!
These ten lepers — though separated from everyone else — have banded together to try to comfort and support one another. When Jesus approached and they saw him, they changed their cry from “Unclean!” to “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!” They had apparently heard of this healer from Galilee.
When Jesus saw them, he simply said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” The law in the Hebrew Scriptures was clear: it was the Temple priest, not a physician, who alone had the authority to pronounce a leper cured. As they left to do that, they were cleansed of their disease. One of them, who was a Samaritan, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God “with a loud voice.” The scripture reading goes on to say that “he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
What happened to those other nine? Did they forget? Only one of those former lepers that day returned to Jesus to give thanks. One in ten isn’t a very good ratio, is it? Jesus seemed surprised. Here’s what Jesus said, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?”
That’s a good question!
One in ten is not very good! Surely we do better than that, don’t we? But, thanksgiving during a pandemic? Yes. Even during a pandemic. One of the oxymoronic phrases that we’ve heard during the past eight months is “gifts of the pandemic.” It is a reminder that even in very difficult times, there are some things for which to be thankful. It is a reminder to give thanks for the blessings that we do have, even in the midst of so much loss.
It’s true, isn’t it, that we can be like the nine and forget to say “Thank you.” It’s easy to get busy and forget the thanks. But, what’s the big deal, really? Isn’t gratitude just a polite custom? I think it is much more than that. It acknowledges God as the source, it enables us to see life in a new way, and it leads us to live life in a new way. This Thanksgiving Day, I invite you to make a gratitude list. What are you thankful for?
I also invite you to make this your prayer during this season:
O God, you have given me so much, I ask that you would give me one thing more — a grateful heart. Open my eyes to see the blessings in my life. Open my mind to acknowledge you as the source of all goodness, grace, and love. Open my heart and my hands to live a thankful and generous life. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”