This week’s lectionary text has to be one of my favorite texts in the whole Bible. Since the time I was a child, it has spoke to me, moved me. It’s quite a simple story, and I always feel as though the point is rather clear. But in recent years, I have come to think that the text is deeper yet than I have realized.
In the story, Jesus comes upon ten lepers, who were outcasts because of their disease, and they call out to Jesus. Usually, lepers were to call out in order to warn people who may otherwise approach them; they were to warn people. For Jesus, however, the lepers cry out for help. Jesus responds by declaring them clean, healed, and whole. He then tells them to show themselves to a priest, which will ensure their being included once again in the larger community. The lepers run off then. But one leper, a Samaritan, someone who was probably none too excited about seeing the priest, turned back in order to thank Jesus. Jesus remarks on how only one has returned to Him, and after this simple exchange, the leper is once again sent off into the world.
Usually, I’m prone to focus on the one leper. I want to be like that leper. Lately though, I’ve been thinking more of the nine other lepers. They really haven’t done anything that isn’t admirable or honest or understandable. In fact, when I really sit down to think about it, the other nine lepers are, in fact, doing what Jesus has commanded them to do. They have been suffering for a long time, and they are eager to join community again. Jesus has already healed them, and they are on their way again.
So, what in fact has the one returning leper really gained? Jesus doesn’t exactly pronounce some special blessing on him. In a way, he is rewarded by being recorded in the Gospel as exceptional. But other than that, there isn’t much to be seen for his gratitude. He’s been healed like all of the others. Like the laborers in the vineyard, his extra work does not earn him extra pay, so to speak.
But – I’m not waxing eloquently on the nature of gratitude here.
And that’s because I don’t think that gratitude needs me to expound on it at some great length. Gratitude is its own reward.
And that’s a hard lesson in life, I think.
Gratitude can often be cast as showing one’s self as having extra merit and thus deserving just a little bit more. But that’s not how gratitude functions here. The leper gains nothing – nothing more – from going back to thank Jesus. He is still one of many people whom Jesus loves.
What the gratitude does for the leper isn’t stated, but I have to imagine that gratitude does do something for him, just not something miraculous or especially visible. What do I mean? The gratitude has brought the leper once again into Jesus’ presence, the presence of God. That’s it.
If that doesn’t sound like much of a gift, then gratitude may not be for you, because that’s about the extent of what gratitude will get you. For me, however, that’s a whole great lot. Gratitude gives us a glimpse of God, of how God has worked in our lives.
When I think back on the people who have give my life formation, I find that I haven’t always expressed gratitude well in the moment. Thus, I am not some champion of gratitude. But, when, for whatever reason, I’ve felt my heart moved, perhaps sitting in the yard alone at night with small glass of orange juice or just sitting at my desk, looking out the window, and thinking about how I ever came to this place, I think back on people like Leslie, Dave, David, Peter, Sean, Andy, Katrina, Amy, Lisa, Emlyn, and Richard, just to name a few, and through some grace I barely understand I catch just a hint of how fortunate it is to even find one person who can make you feel clean, healed, and whole – even if just for a while. That’s not a given in this life.
And in that person, I would say, there is Christ. Can you see Him? If you can see Him, then maybe you’ve been grasped by gratitude – real gratitude. That is your reward – to see Christ.
And you’ve lived the parable – something which I think is kinda neat.