“Gratitude and Grace”
November 22, 2009 - Christ the King
My knee hurts. I strained it playing racquetball a couple weeks ago and it still hurts. So Wednesday I stopped by the trainer’s office at Courtsports and asked him what to do. He gave me a daily leg lift exercise to strengthen the muscles and draw things back into line. Then I asked him if I could keep playing racquetball while it was healing. He said, “No way. You need to lay off for awhile.” But on Thursday he caught me in the locker room carrying my racquet. I grinned sheepishly at him, because I had done the exercises but ignored the rest of his advice.
Ten lepers living outside a little border town between Galilee and Samaria obeyed Jesus’ advice. Carrying a disease dreaded in the ancient world, they went off at Jesus’ word to seek a clean bill of health from the authorities before there was any sign they were healed. Only on the way to the priests did they find their skin clear, their sores gone and their bodies whole. They followed the advice of the Great Trainer and received healing.
Jesus asked a lot of these lepers. Old Testament law in Leviticus 14 prescribes a ritual for someone cured of leprosy. It begins with an examination by a priest for verification that the disease is really gone. Previously in Luke 5, Jesus healed a man with leprosy by touching him, but only after the healing did He tell him to go to the priest. But Christ did not even approach these ten. Verse 14 tells us as soon as He heard and saw them, He said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” He sent them off as if they were already healed.
They had no good reason to go. The rest of the verse says very plainly that “As they went, they were cleansed.” In other words, they started out before anything had happened. They headed off on what could have been a forty mile journey for nothing. Yet they went, and were healed. The story might have stopped there.
We could all learn a lesson from the lepers about following our Lord’s advice, about accepting His commands and directions and principles, like the Sermon on the Mount, as the way to live and be healed of the illnesses we have in our hearts and spirits. If we would only be quicker to turn and do just what Jesus said to do—turn the other cheek, love our enemies, seek spiritual rather than material wealth, serve those in need—if we would only take that advice, we would be so much healthier. Yet that’s not quite the lesson for today, the lesson from this text. The story goes on.
Verse 15 tells us one out of the ten men was walking along, glanced down at the back of his hands and saw clean, healthy skin. He must have lifted his robe to check that the scabs and abscesses on his legs were gone. He gingerly touched his face and found it smooth like a baby’s. And while the others were all doing the same and slapping each other on the back and then picking up the pace to get their inspection and clean bill from the priests, he turned around and ran back to Jesus. He wanted to say thank you.
It’s at this point in verse 16 that we learn that the one man who came back to express gratitude wasn’t even a Jew. This place was so close to the border that a Samaritan leper had joined the dismal little band of outcasts. Wearing the stigma of leprosy, being a despised Samaritan didn’t matter so much. But when healed, when it came to being grateful, it made all the difference.
Those of Jesus’ own race, those who had been familiar all their lives with the God of the Bible, in some way took their healing for granted. Yet someone who had never been an insider, never knew the blessing of being among the chosen people, never thought he had any standing before God; it took a person like that to be genuinely grateful.
You and I can be too familiar with God to be really grateful. Many of us have all our lives, or at least for many years, felt His love, felt his forgiveness for our sins, felt His unconditional favor and blessing poured into our hearts. And just like those nine Jewish men who continued on their way, we may take it all for granted. It’s easy to do.
Way too often since our car accident last month I’ve felt myself being ungrateful for the miracle of providence that let our family crawl out of an overturned wreck alive and whole and walking. Instead of giving thanks about that great blessing and gift, I’ve let myself moan about the loss of a car, the inconvenience we’ve suffered, the hassles of filling out insurance forms. All when God gave us our lives. But ordinary life is such a familiar, constant blessing, I forget to be grateful for it and instead focus on petty losses.
Those who haven’t had the life I take for granted—who don’t get to wake up in a soft bed, who don’t get to draw clean water from a tap, who don’t get to walk around on two good legs—they would trade places with me in a moment, no car, bum knee and all. And they would be grateful, oh so grateful. That’s how it is with those who are new to the spiritual blessings and grace of God.
Many of you remember the young woman who came from another country and another religion and found the grace of Jesus here at Valley Covenant a few years ago. You remember how she would bring “flowers for Jesus” every Sunday, how she would fall down on her knees right here on these steps and cry out her thanks and prayers to Jesus. You know that if she could have seen Jesus in the flesh like that leper could, she would have fallen at His feet and kissed His toes just like verse 16 says the Samaritan did.
As a national holiday invites us to be thankful this week, may you and I seek to overcome our familiarity and comfort with the greatest blessings we have in Jesus Christ, and remember to be truly and completely grateful. May we see with fresh and opened eyes once again just how much and how deeply God has loved us and how much He has given us in Christ for the healing of our souls. In that gratitude may we find a new measure of grace.
In verse 17, Jesus remarked how strange it was that, out of ten people just relieved of the most dreaded disease of their age, only one should come back and give thanks, and that one a foreigner, he adds in verse 18. The Samaritan knew he did not deserve to be healed by the God of the Jews. Of all of them, he was the most surprised. He was the one who knew he had experienced unmerited favor. And in that gratitude he found grace.
The New International Version makes Jesus say in verse 19, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” But that’s not what He literally said. The word translated “made well,” is the verb “to save.” The Samaritan was not just “made well.” He did not merely receive clean skin and good health. He was saved. Jesus redeemed him and gave him eternal life. Through gratitude he received the grace of salvation. Ten men got healed. Only one got saved.
You and I will receive more grace the more we feel gratitude. It is ingratitude that leads us to doubt the grace of God. Our familiarity breeds contempt for a love and grace so precious, so marvelous, so undeserved that we ought never fail to give our Lord thanks and praise for the blessings of salvation and eternal life. And such gratitude makes it easier to believe and trust that God is still saving us, no matter what troubles we find ourselves in right now.
Gratitude leads to grace. Offer a word of thanks here this morning or in another Sunday’s sharing time. Tell a friend how grateful you are for what God has done. Give thanks before you eat your meals. Blog a little word of thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Tell someone young a story about how Jesus helped you. Express thanks by a gift to God through your church or to someone in need. Kneel down by your bed tonight and quietly speak to your Lord a list of all the things for which you are thankful. Be grateful… and find grace.
May our gratitude also make us more open and welcoming and inviting to those for whom it is not familiar, to those who will not, like we too often do, take grace and forgiveness and new life in Jesus for granted. May we seek out and be refreshed by the gratitude of those who will come fall at the feet of Jesus for the first time in their lives. And joining them in gratitude, may we together hear our Lord says to us all, “Rise and go, your faith has saved you.”
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj