A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Thanksgiving Makes It Even Better
November 21, 2018
As Jesus approached Jerusalem on his way to the cross, Luke tells us he encountered ten lepers who begged him to heal them. They showed their respect by keeping their health-department mandated distance while they called out to him. In other encounters with lepers, Jesus defied those mandates by touching them to make them well. But this time he responded by calling back to them to go and show themselves to the priests, who were responsible for establishing or lifting their quarantine. And so they did. (Luke 17:11-19) “As they went, they were made clean,” Luke reports.
Upon seeing the signs of his disease disappear, one of the ten (whom our text notes was a Samaritan, an outsider whom law-abiding citizens considered unclean simply by virtue of his ethnicity) returned to thank Jesus. Jesus marveled that only “this foreigner” among the ten was moved to offer his personal thanks. He sent him away, declaring, “Your faith has made you well.” As is so often the case with Jesus, those considered “foreigners” by the majority gain his special favor and show greater fidelity than most “insiders.”
The text makes clear that all ten were made well. The sign of faith for all ten was that they headed off to see the priests as Jesus directed, even though they were still leprous. Only as they stepped out in obedience to Jesus were they made well.
The one who alone expressed his thanks was not the only one who was saved from leprosy, but he was the only one who heard Jesus’ commendation. The other nine got their healing too.
That’s how it is with genuine gratitude. It doesn’t get us any more than is already ours. It is not a means to an end.
Tammy and I contribute to a few charities. We routinely get profuse thanks from them, obviously offered in the hope of inducing us to give still more. That’s how it is all too often with giving thanks – it is transactional rather than relational, calculated to elicit future benefits more than it is offered for its own sake.
Jesus considered the leper’s thanks directed toward him as an offering to God instead. He didn’t protest, “Oh, I did nothing, it’s not about me.” Such a response would itself be self-serving. Instead, he simply reframed the leper’s words as giving God the glory, even though the leper aimed his thanks directly at Jesus.
Let’s be honest. We who seek to obey Jesus’ call are often more like the nine who followed his command then went on with their lives, than the one who took the extra trouble to get up close and personal with Jesus, expressing gratitude for undeserved blessings. The other nine received the same healing touch as the Samaritan who took the trouble to say “Thanks!” But only the Samaritan heard Jesus’ “Well done!”
The outsider gained an inner-circle blessing simply by expressing gratitude. The rest did as Jesus instructed, and in so doing received a new lease on life.
Obedience is enough for salvation. But thanksgiving makes it even better.
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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