If there was a scale where you could measure your level of gratitude on a scale of 1 to 10 – what number value would you give yourself? Are you an 8? Really grateful for God’s grace? Or are you maybe a three? Not so grateful. Keep the number to yourself.
Our gratitude keeps us buoyant during difficult times.
I would say that today’s story where Jesus heals a leper, that leper’s gratitude is off the charts!
He’s beyond a 10 PLUS PLUS. The former leper’s gratitude is not that of polite thank you notes. “Thank you for the lovely gift.” The former leper is so grateful that he’s a walking talking human container of THANKFULNESS. He THROWS himself at Jesus’ feet!
Can you remember the last time you were SUFFUSED with thankfulness? Maybe the biopsy came back negative, and you were so thankful you didn’t know what to do with yourself! Maybe you danced in your living room like you had never danced before! Or maybe the grandkids were in the car with you, you were driving, and you narrowly avoided a car accident. And you were FILLED with thankfulness and relief. In those moments you were a TEN PLUS PLUS on the gratitude spectrum.
We have no experience of leprosy. Now, it’s been mostly eradicated and given a dignified name, Hansen’s Disease. Back in Jesus’ time, it destroyed your body and it destroyed your life. It took away your name and your family. No one knew how it spread, so they were driven away to the fringes of the community. They had to ring a bell if they were going outside so people would stay away from them.
What a miserable life.
This former leper must have been filled with such profound gratitude from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. Each cell of his body rejuvenated and made new. He must have been filled with such WONDER. On the way to showing himself to the priest, this former leper turned around.
Who else do we know TURNED around? We associate turning around with repentance.
The Prodigal Son turned around, turned away from his sins . . . and his father had already gone to meet him.
In today’s gospel, the least likely of the ten lepers, the Samaritan, TURNS BACK. He turns back – not out of repentance, but to GIVE THANKS. I’m going to guess that his THANKS and PRAISE were as heartfelt and significant as someone’s grace-filled repentance.
In today’s gospel, there are TEN lepers, and of the ten, one is a Samaritan. A “foreigner” as Jesus calls him. We know, Samaritans are shunned. They did things wrongs. They worshipped on the mountain, not at the temple. They still worshipped other gods beside Yahweh. Very bad. But with lepers, I’m sure they are in such a state of abject misery, I’ll bet the boundaries among themselves BLURRED. It’s no longer Israelite v Samaritan, now they share the common fate of SHAME and misery.
They lose their name and their standing in the community. They’re SHUNNED. Their community is OTHER LEPERS. This man may be a Samaritan, but he’s one of them. Until he isn’t. His healing stops him in his tracks. It turns him around. He is suffused with thankfulness. GRACE penetrates him. Mysterious grace turns him around. Grace opens his eyes so that he, “Prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
There were ten lepers. Jesus wants to know what happened to the other nine, those sons of Abraham? Weren’t they taught how to say thank you? Where is their gratitude?
Now, this former leper has a second encounter with Jesus. Saying thank you is not boring if you’re having a second encounter with Christ. He is thankful to his core. GRACE lifts him up.
There’s a puzzle here. Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean?” Jesus may have been truly puzzled.
The “foreigner” gets the grace to return and give thanks, but not the chosen people.
We can’t control grace.
We can’t control God.
The other nine lepers may have been perceived as MORE deserving –They KNEW where to worship.
They didn’t have multiple gods on the side. Yet, we see in today’s gospel, grace goes where it will. We can’t control or TAME God! This former leper, a Samaritan and a foreigner, gets grace piled upon grace, gift upon gift. Jesus marvels – grace goes where it goes! We have no control of where God wants to send God’s grace.
Grace and mercy
In today’s gospel, the lepers beg “Lord have mercy!” but they knew they had to beg standing away from people and “keeping their distance.” They may keep their distance, but Jesus BRIDGES the space between them. Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. That is our joy and proclamation that Jesus is Lord! HE does have mercy on us! This is the good news for us, too. Jesus is the one who does the hard work of bridging the distance between us sinners and the HOLINESS and HEALING of God. And all we have to do is RECEIVE. Keep our hands open and ready to receive. RECEIVE the healing which is salvation. This healing of the ten lepers is a promise of MORE to come, that many more will be reconciled and brought into the kingdom.
This is a taste of the healing of the nations. Jesus heals an ENEMY of the Israelites. He restores his health, restores him to his family and community. He gets newness – a rebirth – this enemy!
Can you imagine him standing at the threshold of his house that he hadn’t dared to enter? Knocking, saying ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ The WONDER of the family members, of this FOREIGN tribe, pulling him in. Calling his name. TOUCHING his skin for the first time in a long time. ALL of them MARVELING that, “Jesus, MASTER” had mercy on him. His gratitude and thanks would have been off the charts. He is no longer isolated from his family.
More grace and mercy
There’s a problem with the gospel, not that there is a problem with the gospel, but the problem is – we love Samaritans! We love being called a good Samaritan. We’ve lost the sense of how strange they were, and that people of their time would never associate anything good with them. In Jesus’ time, I imagine people would wince when Jesus would bring up a Samaritan as being “GOOD.” These stories stung.
Foreigners and their gratitude
So, how can I get my sermon to sting a little, like the gospels originally did? Perhaps if I include a foreigner in my sermon, we get a better sense of this gospel story. Can we learn from someone outside our tribe? Can a foreigner teach us something about gratitude?
We know that recently, on the lower East Side, there were four tragic deaths of homeless men. A reporter noticed that there were four pizza boxes stacked in front of each of the four memorials for the men, so he investigated. The author calls this story “remarkable in a city built on ‘rags-to-riches’ tales.”
The 16 pizzas were left by a man who himself used to be homeless and would feed these men out of gratitude for his success. The man who left the pizzas is, 39-year old, Hakki Akdeniz, who now owns about seven small Champion pizza shops, and describes himself as, “a former homeless man.” Like the Samaritan, he’s way outside our tribe – he’s a Kurd from Turkey and came to this country with $240 in his pocket. The money was spent quickly and he slept rough outside while learning the pizza trade. He spent 96 days in the Bowery Mission on skid row. That’s a miserable place to sleep. He worked, he saved, and he didn’t forget his struggles. Now that he is a success, he gives out free pizza slices to the homeless.
Hakki’s gratitude for his phenomenal success caused him to reach out to the street people.
Next, “He started a weekly food and clothing handout.” He got a barbershop to give free haircuts and a gym to use the showers, all paid out of his pocket. Now he leaves warm pizzas at the memorials for the four dead homeless men. Hakki doesn’t forget his struggles and we can almost measure his gratitude on the scale of 1 to 10. Whatever his gratitude number, it’s off the charts. A TEN Plus, Plus. He is permeated by thankfulness. He is walking and talking thankfulness and gratitude.
Gratitude propels us.
Gratitude catapults us.
Or does it?
Does gratitude shape our lives? I hope you are sitting in these seats because grace has shaped your lives. There are foreigners like Hakki, in our city and suburbs whose gratitude spills over to benefit others.
We don’t have to be homeless to have benefited from his gratitude. The world is a better place for people like him. Hakki, this ‘foreigner’ this stranger, is living in the kingdom.
I’m here in this pulpit out of gratitude for the graces God has given me. Grace and gratitude are an adventure. And Christ ALWAYS bridges the gap between us. Christ offers us MERCY and out of gratitude, and we are filled to overflowing.
Where are you on the gratitude scale? Where ever you are, know that Christ’s mercy goes before you, surrounds you, and is ready for you. Let gratitude turn you around and propel your steps closer to Christ. He draws us closer. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 Michael Wilson. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/nyregion/homeless-murders-nyc-hakki-akdeniz.html?fallback=0&recId=1S4cdmPrRRd4KelwYkW83HWsTWm&locked=0&geoContinent=NA&geoRegion=NY&recAlloc=story-desks&geoCountry=US&blockId=home-featured&imp_id=523192716&action=click&module=editorContent&pgtype=Article®ion=CompanionColumn&contentCollection=Trending.October 11, 2019.