Dr. RB McFee
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“12 As He (Jesus) was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him – and he was a Samaritan.17 Jesus asked, “were not all ten cleansed?” Where are the other nine?”
Luke 17: 12 – 17 NIV
Not too long ago I was completing one of the advanced courses to become a certified lay speaker. The final assignment was to deliver a brief sermon in the class. The instructor gave us four scriptures from which to base our message, one of which came from the Gospel of Luke.
Not surprisingly, as a physician I am naturally drawn to the writings of others called to the healing profession. And I suspect that is why Luke, the physician, felt especially attracted to, and compelled to write about the times Jesus was a healer.
In preparing for the message, I tried to let the assigned scripture from Luke 17: 11 – 17 inspire me. My first instinct, was to approach the story from a clinical basis and try to merge it with the spiritual aspects of Christ.
And as a sailor I found out leprosy still existed. Several years ago, sailing between Maui and Molokai in the hope of seeing the whales migrate through that passage, I later discovered nearby had been a leper colony. Since the mid 1800’s the Hawaiian Island of Molokai hosted a place where lepers could feel safe and cared for. One of the saintly caregivers was Father Damien – someone worthy of a blog article and more!
Imagining the island I had just sailed near, I wondered about the poor souls who had lived in isolation as part of the leper colony. Interestingly, although it officially closed in 1969, there remains a leper community there.
Several years later I was fortunate enough in my career to have seen a case of Hansen’s Disease (aka leprosy). Not the devastating, facially destructive kind, but an obvious case nevertheless. The patient was from East Africa, but was able to obtain aggressive therapeutics which slowed the progression of her illness, allowing her to lead a relatively normal life, in society, and not relegated to living as an outcast.
But what if she didn’t have access to good medical care, and her disease went the normal inexorable path that typifies leprosy? She would suffer greatly as body parts essentially died and sloughed off. She would smell and look and also feel like death. It was in fact a living death. She would be alone. Being alone in certain cultures is difficult enough, but as a woman, it would add significantly to her burden, deprivation, isolation.
Now imagine living that life – in a wilderness region, alone, sick, having to find food and shelter, forbidden to interact with other human beings, knowing you would ultimately die painfully, perhaps blind, and all alone.
Now imagine that although you lived at the outskirts of society, you occasionally snuck a peak and hid at the margins just to remind yourself of a prior happy life, long ago lost to the disease you carry. And that’s when you learned about a holy man coming to the village you used to live in. Whispers abounded that he could do miraculous things – cure sickness, raise the dead.
Would you, could you, dare you try to get just one moment with this man they call Jesus?
Somehow on the day of His arrival you thrust yourself within shouting range to get Jesus’ attention. He notices you. He comes over to you. He tells you to do something. You start to do it, and notice the disease is leaving you. You are being made whole again.
What do you do next?
Put differently, what you do next defines you for all eternity – wherever Jesus’ name is proclaimed and His Good News is taught, you will be memorialized one way or another?
Will God remember you as a grateful child or one who takes the gift and goes off forgetting the Giver?
Fast forwarding to today – although God doesn’t ease us of leprosy since in the US it is unheard of except for visitors and immigrants – our Lord does care for us in other ways.
What do we do next?
Such was the story of the ten lepers written about in Luke 17: 11 – 17.
So which one of them are we?
Are we the one who stopped in his tracks, healing from an incurable and disfiguring disease, so that you can run back to the One who healed you, and give thanks?
Or are we one of the nine who continue on our way?
These distinctly different actions between the one and the nine were not lost on Jesus. He blesses the one, and laments the nine. And their stories are told even today, immortalized in God’s Word.
The New Testament and the Psalms are filled with Jesus and the Apostle Paul reminding us to be grateful, to give thanks. In fact the entire Bible exhorts us to be of a grateful heart to the Lord.
“18 Instead, be filled with the Spirit,19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.”
Why be thankful?
Beyond the fact it is the right thing to do? I suspect gratitude opens the gates of Heaven and the Heart of God faster than almost anything else we can do.
Sadly we live in a “what have you done for me lately” world. And none of us is immune. People sometimes treat each other that way and worst of all, treat God that way, as if it was His sole job to be their personal ATM machine dolling out miracles on demand.
To be sure, all of us have some down deep heartache that can overshadow our gratitude. Though we try to remind ourselves what we have more than what we lost, some days, some seasons are harder than others. Jesus knows that, but we still need to dig deep and be grateful for His Presence, love, and blessings.
Yet how often have we sat back and looked at all the blessings our God has bestowed upon us each day, even in the midst of the sink overflowing, or the car not starting, or the grumpy boss, or the disappointing performance on the playing field or, or, or….
Do we think how fortunate we are to be able to own a house where the sink is, or the car that temporarily isn’t working, or a job, boss notwithstanding, or the ability to do something athletic?
Did we ever stop and think how blessed we are to be alive, and capable of seeing the sunrise, feeling the breeze, tasting the coffee, hearing the traffic, smelling the French fries?
I have often wondered are we as a people, we as a nation too blessed to be grateful.
When is the last time we stopped in our tracks, looked up and just whispered “thank you God?”
On more earthly terms, when was the last time we called someone who did us a favor, and let them know it didn’t go unnoticed, or wrote a good old fashioned ‘thank you’ note?
Gratitude is a lost art. But it has been that way since the time of Jesus and beforehand. Otherwise why did God, did Jesus, and some of the luminaries of our faith continue to remind us scripturally?
Getting back to Luke 17, Jesus has just restored the health, and lives of ten people, in ways only God could do. In fact, the very belief of Judaism in that era rested on the notion any healing of leprosy could only be accomplished by Divine intervention. Put differently, there isn’t mention of priests having to perform the requisite steps of declaring lepers clean until Jesus came along.
Jesus in healing the men of leprosy - beyond removing the stench and feel of death these individuals died with every day, beyond the risk of gross disfigurement and painful lives, Jesus removed the indignities of being a social outcast and the cruelty that others likely imposed on them.
Jesus restored these men to society, to having lives again, with people to love and hug and have dinner with again in community.
And yet only one returned to give thanks. Not exactly a Hallmark ™ moment for the other nine.
To be sure we don’t know if the other nine found Jesus as He traveled in the region, and later gave thanks. We don’t know if they met up with Jesus in the temple after the priests declared them clean. We don’t know if collectively they sent Jesus a fruit basket with a note.
But what we do know – gratitude resonates with Jesus, and the sooner we give it, the closer we are to our Savior. Because what is lost in the story telling – the one who gave thanks got to spend a little extra time with Jesus. And that alone is worth giving thanks.
Let me digress a second. Jesus never did anything for gratitude or notoriety. He often admonished those He healed not to tell anyone. Jesus helped people because it felt good. It just feels good to help someone else, and the notion it was a blessing to bless others.
That said, Jesus being human as well as Divine, knew us as only another mortal can. So He tries to teach us how to live better lives. What we focus on determines our beliefs, our health, our actions. If we have a grateful heart we live in an upwards facing direction, connected to God. When we are ungrateful, we are focusing on the negatives, on ourselves.
Research shows there are many physical and psychological benefits of gratitude. People who have a thankful mindset tend to be happier, experience life with greater joy, focus on and have better health, handle life’s challenges better, and enjoy healthier relationships.
Our ultimate etiquette teacher – God – reminds us gratitude is what connects us to and resonates with Him in powerful ways.
So what does it take to get a thank you and how much does God need to do so we are grateful? Or can we say “thank you God,” just because?!