Thanksgiving - gratitude - is evidence of a changed heart. As children, we learned to say "thank you" for just about everything from getting a cookie to mom handing you a pile of clean undies to put away in the drawer. Every act of "kindness" or "provision" became an opportunity for us to thank someone. For most of us, saying "thank you" has become a little "rote", hasn't it? Thanksgiving is more than saying the right words - it is revealing the right heart.
It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.” (Luke 17:11-19 MSG)
Ten lepers were healed - one returned to say "thanks". Does it surprise you it was the Samaritan who returned - the one who would have been least likely? What we see in his actions is evidence of a changed heart. Each had the same potential for gratitude - the same motive - but only one returned. I don't know why the nine didn't return, but something speaks to me about the one who did. He had lived so close to the pit of despair - now his whole world has been transformed. For him, his change in appearance, general health and well-being was more than just a chance to live outside of that "pit" again. It was a chance to display freshness and wholeness. Nothing speaks louder of God's actions on a man's behalf than the freshness of heart and the wholeness of spirit which is a direct result of his healing!
I have to wonder what this man's attitude of heart was in the midst of the "pit" of leprosy. Maybe, just maybe, there was a hint of gratitude in the midst of the pit, as well! Maybe he had learned to trust God wherever he was - no matter the circumstances. These many years, he had been defined by the "pit" in which he dwelt - the pit of leprosy - let's call it the pit of imperfection. This had defined him for however long he was there - yet, somehow he is able to embrace this idea of mercy better than all the rest. Maybe it is because he no longer saw himself defined by his imperfection, and this drove him to his knees in absolute gratitude and worship! Isn't it an amazing thing to finally discover you are no longer defined by your imperfection, but by the mercy of God's grace restoring and renewing your life?
It is easy to be thankful for what we can get. We come out of the deal with something we didn't have when we went into it. It is quite another thing to just be thankful because God "is" and not always just because of what he "does". At first, they were all grateful for what God "did" for them - but this one shows an awareness of who God "is" as he kneels in worship. Worship is really a connection of heart between who we are and what God is. Ten sought his "action" - one sought his "presence". It is one thing to always to be ministered to by the hand of God - it is quite another to settle into the comfort of connecting with his heart!
Here's a tough question: Would we find ourselves struggling with anger or disappointment if somehow something which has defined us for so long was removed from our lives? If this "something" was a negative habit, or some gnawing guilt from our past, we'd likely answer this one with a resounding "no". Yet, if this "something" was something we rely upon everyday, we'd likely feel a tremendous loss without it. If we find ourselves answering "yes" to this one, we might just have an attitude of entitlement, instead of gratitude toward that "something". I wonder if Jesus saw something different in this leper even before he sent them on their way to the priest - something like gratitude even before his circumstances changed. It is possible this man was just grateful for the chance to connect with Jesus. Maybe he was more concerned with this connection than he was consumed with his desire to be healed. Who knows?
Here's the thing I hope we can see from this passage - God's wants us to have hearts of gratitude even before he changes the circumstances in our lives. Gratitude reflects the change of heart which defines us no longer as "pit dwellers". Gratitude is foundational to worship. Worship flows from being more consumed by who God is than what he does. Just know this - he delights in "doing" for those who delight in just "being" with him! Just sayin!