Faithful, Grateful Turning
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.”
I wonder if you’ve ever seen one of those videos that makes its way around the internet – there are probably hundreds of them – where someone gives a person on the street who is poor or homeless or begging and in need, a bunch of money… or a large pizza… or a bag of cheeseburgers… and then watches as they do something kind and generous with what they’ve been given. (Have you seen that before?) Sometimes, whoever’s filming the video – usually undercover from across the street – even facilitates the generosity, as a test of some kind, by having someone else ask the newly enriched person for some money or for something to eat.
And when the person who was poor and begging returns the favor – when he shares his pizza or gives some of his new-found money away – the internet swoons with surprise and awe and “likes” and “shares” and all the rest.
I’d show you one of those videos – like I said, there are probably hundreds of them – but something always rubs me wrong about that kind of thing. For one thing, it feels uncomfortable to me when someone uses another person – especially someone in need – as an unwitting object lesson for the amusement of the masses. I also think our initial response – our shock and awe and admiration – toward such generosity and kindness says something less than great about us and about our impressions and opinions of people who are poor.
So, this morning, instead of merely lifting up and looking at and patronizing the faithful Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel as some similar, simple sort of object lesson, I feel like we’re called to lift up and look in the mirror, instead, and to see what we can learn from ourselves and each other, as those who, more often than not, if we’re honest, have more in common with the other nine lepers on the road in this morning’s story.
Remember, ten lepers were healed, in all, but nine of them kept on walking and didn’t turn around to thank Jesus for the gift he’d given them; for the love he’d shown them; for the generosity he’d shared with each of them that day.
See, we may not find ourselves begging on the sidewalk, but we’ve been given a gift, have we not? We may not be as desperate as the down-and-out in those videos, but that’s kind of the point, if you ask me. Why don’t we turn around, more often? Why do we just keep walking so much of the time? Why don’t we say “thank you” – or mean it – as often as we should – by returning the favor? And why are we so surprised when another child of God responds in the way every one of us is called to live?
The list is long and the reasons are legion, I believe.
Maybe we don’t make time for gratitude and generosity because we’re just too wrapped up in ourselves and in the joy of our blessings to take the time out for praise and thanksgiving. (I can cut the other nine lepers some slack imagining they were just so overjoyed they couldn’t wait to get back into town and back to their families to show them they were healed – to be loved again, touched again, welcomed back again, to the homes from which they’d been banished.)
Maybe we don’t say thanks more often or more generously because we’ve convinced ourselves we deserve or that we have earned what’s ours and so gratitude isn’t a ready, regular response. (I’m sure those other nine lepers didn’t think it fair that they were sick in the first place, and that they had some healing coming to them, after all. And none of them was a Samaritan, like that other guy. He had more to be grateful for – as a foreigner, doubly unclean, if you will, thanks to the polity and politics and prejudices of his day. Likewise, it’s easy to presume that we’re very different from the needy beggar on the street corner, because we work hard to make our livings don’t we; to have what we have? We forget that even the ability to work and do anything for ourselves is evidence of God’s gracious provision in our lives. And we forget that at the expense of our gratitude.)
Saddest of all perhaps, maybe we don’t give thanks by way of our generosity because – in our unconsciously privileged, self-absorbed way – we just can’t find anything for which to be thankful. (Wars rage, wild fires destroy, diseases happen, loved ones die, jobs get lost, relationships crumble… None of us has to look very far to find plenty of things not to be thankful for, do we?)
But, the Samaritan and Jesus know otherwise. There’s a process of giving and receiving – of grace and gratitude – that takes place between the two of them: Jesus gives… the Samaritan receives and is healed… he notices what has happened for him… and he returns to give thanks. The giving of thanks is an important and essential part of that equation. He’s not merely being polite or practicing good manners. He’s practicing faith.
And that’s our call, just the same – to practice our faith by way of turning, every once in a while; to receive God’s goodness, take notice of its abundance, and return the favor – return the faith – in some meaningful way.
And if worship and service are ways we practice our faith and offer thanks to God, how does what we do here turn us around and express our thankfulness and praise? Aren’t we blessed to sing and ring a choir or read Scripture or serve in the nursery or do our part to clean up the church? These are all ways we say “thank you” to God for the gifts we’ve been given; and ways we are blessed in return when we do.
And if giving back is giving thanks – which it is – aren’t we blessed by the good things our money can do here at Cross of Grace or through our work in Haiti or by way of the food pantry or in the hygiene items we’ll collect this month for our Mission Sunday? Giving our offering and sharing our resources are just more of the ways we say “thank you” and turn and return to God what has first been given to us.
And the holy trick of it all is that when it comes to Jesus, the things we do to say “thank you” just continue to bless us beyond measure. Beyond being polite and practicing good manners, Jesus’ call to give thanks is just another way of loving us. Jesus knows that we will only be better for the thanks we bring. Jesus knows giving thanks, in and of itself, can turn us around and change our lives – just as surely as the Samaritan was turned around in this morning’s Gospel.
So let’s stop being surprised when we see another child of God, in one of those viral videos, giving generously from what was first shared with them. Why wouldn’t they? Why shouldn’t they? How could they not? Instead, let’s be surprised that we don’t do the same, more often and more generously, with what has first been shared with us – our time, our talent our treasure; our provision, our power, and our privilege, too.
Let’s allow God’s abundance in our own lives to be all the inspiration and invitation we need to turn us around, earnestly and often, to practice our faith by giving thanks in as many ways as we can manage because we will see our faith – and God’s kingdom – alive and well and living among us when we do.