Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gratitude

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Today’s gospel lesson is a teaching about gratitude. Ten lepers were miraculously healed by Jesus Christ, but only one returned to thank Him. Most of us have heard of leprosy and know that it was an especially terrifying disease in the ancient world. Not only could its physical effects be horrible, but people who contracted it became utter social outcasts, forbidden to enter any city or even to draw near to any healthy person, lest they spread their infection. This is why the gospel tells us that the ten lepers stood “afar off” from Jesus. They were not allowed to come any closer. The Jewish laws were very strict about this: no leper was allowed to enter the synagogue to hear the scriptures read or enter the Temple to make sacrifice for their sins. This effectively meant that any Jew who had leprosy was cut off from the life of Israel, and seemingly, from any hope of salvation. A Jewish leper was sick and alienated from his people and loved ones, and even alienated from God. For this reason, this horrible disease has been employed as a metaphor for sin, which also disfigures humanity, and alienates us from one another and from God. Now we return to our gospel lesson in which nine Jews and one Samaritan shout at Jesus from the legal distance to have mercy upon them and heal them. Being a country preacher with a pretty decent set of pipes Himself, our Lord Jesus shouted back to the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This was a reference to Leviticus 14, which prescribed that any leper whose disease had been healed should present himself to a priest who would follow a prescribed procedure to verify healing and pronounce the patient “clean” and able to reenter normal society. On their way back, they were suddenly and completely healed of their leprosy. It is certain that all ten men knew immediately of their healing. But only the Samaritan stopped and turned back to Jesus to give thanks and worship Him. Thus only to this one man did Jesus say, “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” Does this imply that the leprosy returned to the other nine men because they didn’t give thanks? I seriously doubt it. Men are often cruel in that way, but God is not. Those men were likely healed of their leprosy for the rest of their natural lives. But their ingratitude, their utter lack of thankfulness to Jesus, was a worse disease from which they might never have recovered. We could argue that the nine were simply being obedient, following our Lord’s instructions to go show themselves to a priest. But Golly Bill, knowing that they had just been miraculously healed by the Prophet they had besought, knowing that their lives and families and all good things were being returned to them, couldn’t they have taken just a moment to show some gratitude? It seems so. And for their neglect of this, they did indeed receive back their lives, but did not find the eternal salvation that was granted to the Samaritan alone. Now imagine receiving healing from Jesus Christ, but not His glorious salvation. How is this possible? By the great love of God for us, we may indeed be granted release from disease, or sin, or addiction, or some other terrible thing, but if we lack the proper gratitude, we can wind up making our situation far worse than it was before. Jesus once said to a person He healed, “Go, and sin no more, lest something worse befall you.” What could be worse except condemnation for a lack of gratitude and repentance in acknowledgement of the gift that was given? Anyone who receives a great deliverance is happy. But happiness is not the same thing as gratitude. Happy is, “Woo-hoo! Now I can go out and really live life and do what I want!” Gratitude, on the other hand, is much more sober. It is the recognition that a life restored by God is a life that is owed to Him. This applies to all of us, whether we see ourselves as having had a great deliverance or not. All of us have been washed of the disease of sin, which is an even greater miracle than healing from leprosy! We have all been given a new life, a life of regeneration and of restoration to God and to one another. We have all been given a second chance at real life by our gracious God, with the promise of even better things to come. But having received all this, are we properly grateful to the Giver of Life? What percentage of our new life do we devote to learning and doing the will of God, as opposed to just living? As the scriptures instruct, do we seek to discover what is pleasing to the Lord? Do we try to live in such a way as to make God happy? Or are we mostly concerned with our own happiness? When we make plans for our future do we think, “How can I put myself in the best position in life to serve God?” or only, “What can I do to really enjoy the rest of my life?” Do we glorify God with our finances, making regular sacrifices with thanksgiving, or do we withhold our offerings to spend on things which please us more? Do we look for ways to serve our parish, or only criticize those who do serve for not doing things better? Do we see the needs of others and help, or only their faults and judge? Are we prayerful, supportive, quick to forgive, and encouraging, building up the parish with love and hope? Or are we too busy living our own lives to notice those around us? We can see why gratitude to God is so important. Without a deep recognition of the gracious and unmerited gifts He has granted us, we can too easily take them for granted as if we were owed a good life and the best of all things. My brothers and sisters, God owes us nothing, but we owe Him everything. Truly no one of us would ever mean to be ungrateful, just as the nine lepers probably did not mean to be ungrateful. They simply were, because they were too focused on their own lives and the enjoyment that awaited, and did not stop to think of God. We must remember God and show our gratitude in how we serve Him and always seek to please Him and put Him first in our lives. +To the Glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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