Sunday 13 October 2019
The Thankful Leper
By Georgina Pinches
Retired Salvation Army Major
Context: a regular Sunday morning Salvation Army congregation of around fifty worshippers
Aim: to remember to be thankful in all things
Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection causing sores and eventually nerve damage. Disfigurement from leprosy is often because of damage to the nerves in the skin resulting in infections and wounds. Although treatment is available it is still found in areas of deprivation and poverty. In ancient times of course it was everywhere, including Europe. What also made it so unbearable was the rejection that those with the disease experienced. They were outcasts, beyond the pale, people to be avoided at all costs. Remember the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the eighties? How many people were treated appallingly when it was discovered they were HIV positive? Well this was the same kind of thing.
Desperate people do desperate things and here we have recorded by Luke the story of ten lepers, shunned, spat on, discarded by society who, in their desperation, approached Jesus. No NHS walk-in service for them. No local A&E to go to for treatment. No local GP to refer them to a specialist. To add insult to injury the man who was commended for thanking Jesus was a foreigner – a Samaritan – considered to be almost less than human.
Here we are then, yet another person who met Jesus who did not go away disappointed. The other nine also were not disappointed but they omitted to say thank you to the one who had so readily met their need.
As people of faith we are in no doubt about what is known as the Golden Rule. It’s part of the wider conversation in ethics generally to ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’. We know how we should behave, yet if we were to be entirely honest, sometimes, after doing our good deed, we are a bit miffed if the recipient of our kindness doesn’t show their gratitude. Loving and helping our neighbour is a scriptural injunction. Sucking up their ingratitude takes a bit more effort!
Jesus was just coming into a village on the Galilee/Samaria border. He was shouted at from a way off, by a bunch of ten men – smelly, dressed in rags, daring not to get too near for fear of reprisals – and they gained his undivided attention. He told them to show themselves to the priests as the law dictated because of course he was going to make them clean. Off they went, but only one man turned back and remembered to say thank you.
Someone once said that perhaps the saddest thing about being an atheist is that when their lives are going well they have no one to thank. Well it could be that those who don’t believe in any kind of God wouldn’t agree. But CS Lewis went on to suggest that perhaps it’s not so much not believing in God that’s the problem but believing in a God who loves us.
There are several things about this narrative that we can consider.
Being thankful even in difficult circumstances
The background to this story is grim. Leprosy is a dreadful disease and it’s easy for those whose lives are straightforward to suggest that being thankful in the midst of chaos is something we should do. But it’s a bit like forgiveness. If we forgive someone who has done us great wrong, it is actually also good for us. It’s not easily done, and it may take a long time to arrive at that place, but forgiveness works. And so does thankfulness. We sometimes forget to be thankful and we take things so often for granted but saying thank you is good for us too.
We shouldn’t say, ‘Lord, as soon as there’s enough money, I’ll follow your instructions.’ We shouldn’t pray, ‘Lord, if you’ll just solve this issue in my family, I’ll start to I’ll put my faith in you.’ Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed. This happened with the lepers even during their suffering. They exercised faith and immediately something happened.
Make sure your thankfulness leads to action
One healed leper came back. He put his celebrations on hold, turned back and ‘praising God aloud’ as the story says, he threw himself at the feet of Christ and thanked him. Jesus never asked any of the men for thanks, yet it was the foreigner who had the wit and wisdom to express his gratitude. The man demonstrated his thankfulness, and the challenge is for us to do the same. Here was a man whom the Jews would have despised because he was a Samaritan, willing and able to thank God for his healing. This reminds us as Christians that our thankful response to God should always result in action and commitment to the world that God has placed us in.
I remember that when our children were small we always tried to ensure that they sent a thank you note for Christmas and birthday presents received. Just a little thing but important. It was a sign of appreciation of a blessing received and also reminded our children to be thankful. Hopefully we can do the same.
We are God’s children – so be thankful!
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