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Gratitude Helps You to See Better

A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., November 21, 2010.
Luke 17:11-19

The world’s attention was focused upon Copiapo, Chile in October as thirty-three miners were rescued from a gold and copper mine that had collapsed sixty-nine days earlier. For over two months, they lived 2,300 feet below the surface of the earth in a chamber no larger than a typical living room.

When the first picture was taken of the group the day after their dramatic rescue, do you recall what each one was wearing? Sunglasses. After going that long without being exposed to natural light, their eyes needed protecting.

When that period of time passed and they no longer needed the glasses, I suspect their vision had changed considerably. I am confident they were able to see things that they had been unable or unwilling to see prior to the time they spent in that dark chamber. I have to believe that they saw their families, friends, neighbors and life in general in ways they never had and are better people because of it. Gratitude can do this, you know, because it has a way of softening our hearts, recasting our vision and helping us rearrange our values and priorities.

I want to believe the ten lepers in Luke’s story had a similar transformation. I am confident that one did, the Samaritan who returned to say thank you. Let me tell you why I feel this way.

Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem from Galilee when they came across a group of men who had leprosy. Notice how Luke described them, not as lepers, but as men who had leprosy. This was not uncommon for him. Earlier, he wrote about a man who was paralyzed rather than a paralytic and a man who had demons, not a demoniac. Maybe this was because Luke was a physician and knew how people suffered with low self-esteem when they were sick. He wanted to protect their dignity and did his part by treating them with respect when he wrote about them. 

According to ancient law, these men were supposed to keep their distance from people and shout to anyone getting too close, “Unclean! Unclean!” Apparently, these men kept their distance, but instead of informing Jesus and his disciples of their condition, they cried out for help. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” they shouted.

Luke records that when Jesus saw them, he told them to go show themselves to the priest so they could get a certificate of healing. Doing this would make it possible for them to be reunited with their families and reintegrated into society. They did as he instructed and were healed.

It is at this point in the story that something unusual happened. One returned to Jesus when he saw that he had been healed. According to Luke, he went back so he could praise God for his healing and thank Jesus for his kindness. It just so happened this man was a Samaritan, not a Jew as the other nine were.

It was not uncommon for Luke to point this out to his readers. He took advantage of every opportunity to break down social, economic, racial, ethnic and religious barriers in order to build bridges of goodwill and understanding. Scholars, like Dr. Culpepper, see this story as a companion piece to the parable of the Good Samaritan and the healing of Naaman, who was also a foreigner.

Jesus appeared, however, surprised and disappointed that only one returned.  “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

I suspect Jesus’ surprise was due to the fact all ten cried in unison for mercy, but only a lone voice expressed gratitude. Who wouldn’t be dismayed?

In spite of this, Jesus directed his attention to the one who returned. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well,” he told the grateful Samaritan. I like the fact Jesus connected faith to the expression of gratitude as much as the appeal for help.

Why do you think the Samaritan returned? Perhaps he had no priest to go to, as the others did. He could certainly not go with the other nine to their priest. So, where could he go to praise God and receive a blessing? He went to the only priest available to him, Jesus.

Even if this is true, it does not diminish the fact he returned because he was grateful and wanted to express it. He could not go back to his family before thanking the one who made it possible.

Why didn’t the others return and express their gratitude after getting their certificate of healing? I don’t know. Even Jesus offered no answer to this question. It appears he was as puzzled as we are.

I like Tom Ehrich’s explanation as well as any. “For some people, it takes an abundance of grace before they stop taking credit. Some see God’s love long after that love was first given. They take credit at first, but eventually give God the glory.”

This probably describes most of us. I know I am much more grateful now than I was as a child or young adult. I say the words, “thank you,” more than I used to and it does more for me than the one who receives it.

What do you think they missed by not returning as the Samaritan did? We could flip the question, couldn’t we? What do you think the Samaritan received that the others did not?

This is not an easy question to answer. I grappled with it last week. I believe it would be easier to answer if I were his neighbor and could observe him for a few weeks or months. I’ll share what I think, though.

I believe the healing he received went much deeper than his skin, and involved his heart. Because of God’s grace and Jesus’ compassion, the Samaritan was able to see what was most important in life and pursue it. As a result, his life was never the same.

I believe his days of…

            …taking anything for granted were over, including his health, his family, a beautiful sunrise, the birds singing or children laughing.

            …withholding expressions of gratitude were over. The words “thank you” would roll off his lips with ease.

            …ignoring anyone who was hurting, lonely or disenfranchised were over. Never would he be too busy to listen to someone’s story and act on their behalf.

            …complaining about the weather were over. Rain or shine, each day would be a good day.

            … getting upset over trivial matters were over. He knew what was important and what was not.

            … spending all his money on himself were over. He knew what it was like to be destitute.

            … neglecting to worship and lift his voice in praise with his neighbors were over. This would become the highlight of his week.

            … mistreating his family, if he ever did, were over. Each one was far too precious and important.

            … looking at his problems more than his blessings were over. No longer would God’s blessings be overshadowed by anything.

You see, I don’t think he looked at life the same from that point on, which appears to be one reason Luke included this story in his narrative where the act of seeing plays a vital role. He saw things he had never seen and responded in ways he never had, which, I am confident, made him a better person.

O, that we would live everyday as if we just been healed of leprosy or walked out of a collapsed mine!