Let’s be honest that there are certain character traits that are rather annoying. We are not going to compile a full list but perhaps we can agree that being unthankful would be near the top. Have you ever known a person who never expressed thanks? I once worked with a leader who did not believe in giving verbal encouragement or expressing thanks. She told me straight out that I would only hear from her when I was doing something wrong. It was not an enjoyable job.
As a parent, one of the most rewarding things is when our children spontaneously thank us for something we have done with no prompting by us. Of course they are not going to thank us for every single thing we do, but when we see that there is a general feeling of being thankful, we feel like we are doing something right.
I actually struggled with how to incorporate this into my pastoral life. By this I mean something in particular. I didn’t know how to respond when people shared a word of encouragement. I was taught that pastors should never receive encouragement but should always deflect all praise to God. Then one day as I was preaching on the importance of using our words to build people up, I realized that I was a hypocrite if I wasn’t going to receive encouragement. It doesn’t make sense if we are to give encouragement but not receive it. So I forced myself to respond with a simple “thank you.” I am indeed thankful for all the encouragement I receive in this church and if I haven’t thanked you personally before, let me do it now.
What about thankfulness toward God? Did you know that there is a debate over whether Thanksgiving is a secular or a religious holiday. Everyone claims to be thankful but who are we thankful to? Can we just be thankful in general? As Christians, we direct our thanks to God. But how consistent are we at that? This story is one that can challenge us all.
The Thankfulness of the Samaritan
The context of this story is the journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. In between was Samaria and the Samaritans were hated by the Jews. The feelings were returned by the Samaritans. Jesus and the disciples were right on the border between Galilee and Samaria.
As they entered a village, they encountered some sick people. This was not unusual. Jesus had the reputation of being a healer. Plus medical technology was pretty crude and even then only available to the rich. The people who approached Jesus for healing were normally desperate.
This was especially true for these men. They had leprosy. Leprosy was a terrible disease in terms of what it did to the body. But it also ravaged in other ways. Lepers were not only cut off from temple worship, they were cut off from normal human contact. They couldn’t even spend time with their families. Probably the only reason that these ten were together is that this was the only community they could experience. These men were truly desperate.
Their plea to Jesus was not just for healing but that Jesus would show pity. People only ask for pity in the worst circumstances. It is interesting to see how Jesus responds. Most of the time Jesus simply declared them healed. This time, Jesus sent them to the priests. Going to the priests was the necessary step for people who recovered from leprosy to re-enter society. Jesus was sending them to the priests before the healing and so this was a real act of faith. It was on their journey that they noticed that they were healed. One of the healed lepers returned to Jesus, the other nine presumably continued to the priest. The one who returned, technically disobeyed Jesus because he was told to go to the priest. But the man was so overcome with thankfulness that he had to return. Nothing else was more important.
Then comes the real shocker. The one leper who returned was actually a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans were supposed to hate each other. Not only did Jesus heal the Samaritan, the Samaritan showed the most thankfulness of all who were healed. The Samaritan had taken in the depths of what had been done to him and his thankfulness overpowered any racial prejudice that may have been there. This Samaritan gives a an example for all of us.
The Thankfulness of the Christian
What has Jesus ever done for you? That is a fair question and I’m not being irreverent at all. If Jesus has never done anything for you, there is no point in being thankful. Thankfulness needs something to be thankful for in addition to needing someone to be thankful to.
We call this a worship a service. What is worship? Worship is not just the performing of ceremonies. We can sing all the songs, pray all the prayers and read all the Bible passages and still not truly worship. Worship must include a significant amount of thankfulness. This doesn’t have to be an emotional outburst but there should be some sense of gratefulness toward God.
So what has Jesus ever done for you? Well he died for our sins, which is pretty amazing. He also rose from the dead, starting the process of resurrection that we will share in. He sits on the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. He sent the Holy Spirit to us to strengthen and encourage us.
What else has Jesus done? What about life itself? What about our families? What about the intellect and skills that allow us to work and do other fulfilling activities? What about all the answers to prayer? No Jesus doesn’t give us everything we ask for. Jesus isn’t Santa Claus. But when we pray in Jesus’ name, something happens. I have seen answer after answer to prayer. I have often prayed for a specific thing that I thought was good and ended up getting something better.
We could easily become those nine other lepers. They weren’t bad men. The listened to Jesus and began their journey. They were healed of their leprosy. They followed through on their orders to go see the priest. In those nine we see good respectable church people.
But in the Samaritan, we see something better. We see a man who is overcome with thanksgiving that he must return to Jesus. Do we have anything like his gratefulness?
I want you to think about a time that you did something significant for another person. Not just buying them a coffee but something really important. How did they respond? Did they express gratefulness in any way? Were they truly thankful or did they take your actions for granted? And how did that make you feel?
We have an amazing God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. His revelation was not a simple “hello” but a death on a cross and an empty tomb. How thankful are we? Not only that, this God continues to work in our lives, through our circumstances and the people around us. How thankful are we?
We have heard a story of a man that was so thankful that he actually disobeyed Jesus. That’s pretty thankful.