In the healing of ten lepers, Jesus asks where the other nine are. All ten men cried out to Jesus for mercy, but only one returned to give thanks.
It would seem that there are more mercy seekers in the world than thanks givers.
In the deplorable state of the human condition, we have every reason to cry out to God for mercy. It is in this cry for help that God’s ears turn toward us. The Scriptures paint a clear picture of God’s desire to save us from destruction.
And so, we cry ‘Lord have mercy’.
Leprosy is a metaphor for our sins. These lepers were "afar off", not only because they had to stay away from the Jews, because of their uncleanness, but also because we cannot approach God, being full of sins. A man who has sins is certainly afar off from God.[i]
Jesus discovers in the Samaritan, a man who understands that faith and gratitude are companions. If you trust, you are grateful. The other nine lepers were likely Jews. Jesus did not call them strangers or foreigners, just this one man.
Not everyone that calls on Jesus is thankful. Some are just desperate. 90% of that group showed more concerned for their health and place in society than about thanking the One who helped restore them. So, how is it that the stranger is the only One who demonstrates real faith?
The Samaritan had no chance of being declared clean by the Jewish priests. They might acknowledge that he was free of the symptoms of leprosy, but they would still find him unclean simply for being a Samaritan. This man had no hope of human acceptance and finds perfect acceptance in Jesus’ touch.
Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and were considered to be a heretical sect, "strangers", as it were. The simplest description of the Samaritans is that they were people who followed some of the divinely revealed Jewish religion, and added to it various kinds of false teachings. They were considered to be an unclean people by the Jews, partly because of the history between the Jews and Samaritans, and partly because the Samaritans were not pure in the faith.[ii]
So there it is… you might be able to meet some of the requirements, but we will never accept you because of your wrong beliefs.
What does Jesus do? He acknowledges the faith and wellness of the man that others despised and avoided. Is it possible that we have missed something really important about God’s love?
Jesus is moved by the emotionally charged gratitude of the Samaritan. His own tribe members gave him no such thanks.
Gratitude is the love language of God. He hears that loud and clear. Perhaps he may hear the gratitude of heretics and misfits more than he hears our praise.
How grateful are you? I suspect that the Samaritan man still had to find his place in the land, but he did so with the assurance of God’s acceptance. If no one else would be there for him, God would be.
Once you are grateful to God, it is difficult to not be grateful to those around you. Those who give thanks gain intimacy. While the other nine could say ‘Jesus healed me’, this one could say ‘I was face to face with Jesus’. Is that not better?
So what about you? Are you a just a ‘mercy seeker’ like the rest of us? Or have you turned to God and become a ‘thanks giver’?
John Pattison retells a great story about gratitude from Kathleen Norris’s book ‘Acedia & Me’.
In addition to being an exploration of acedia—meaning “absence of care”—this moving book recalls Norris’ marriage to the poet David Dwyer, his struggles with mental illness and his untimely death.
Norris remembers walking to visit her husband in a psychiatric ward on a day when it was so frigid that it hurt to breathe. As she cursed the cold and icy pavement under her feet, she recalled some words from that Sunday’s liturgy.
Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat … Bless the Lord, dews and falling snow … Bless the Lord, nights and days … Bless the Lord, light and darkness … Bless the Lord, ice and cold … Bless the Lord, frosts and snows; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Norris wrote, “The words were now a part of me, and when I most needed them, the rhythms of my walking had stirred them up, to erode my anxiety and self-pity and remind me that blessings may be found in all things.”[iii]
All things… are you grateful in every circumstance?