Deuteronomy 8:7–18 Psalm 65 2 Corinthians 9.6–15 Luke 17:11–19
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel is a tricky one. At a time when we are giving thanks then Jesus rattles our chain. Do we give thanks properly ? As God’s Grace is poured out on us all year, every day and hour, should we only think about giving thanks on only one particular day ? If we think about it, every day should be Thanksgiving, and not only that but celebrating Christmas Day, the Birth of Christ, and Easter, the Resurrection of Christ is vital every day too.
The Gospel tells us about nine previously leprous men who did not give thanks. Jesus had told ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, which was the ancient Jewish custom; only a priest could declare a person ‘clean’ that is, cured. These men had all been ostracised by society because of their leprosy they were probably so anxious to have the curse removed from them that they did exactly what they were told to do and went to the priests. Priests were in the Temple, maybe the nine gave thanks there – assuming that they were Jews. But the Temple was sixty kilometres away more than a week’s round trip on foot.
Jesus at this time was being recognised as a great prophet like Elijah (Mark 8:28) and as the ‘Son of David’ (Matthew 9:27) that is the Messiah, but not yet as the Son of God, the men may have thought that they didn’t need to return to just a prophet, they were on their way to Jerusalem where YHWH the God of Israel resided. I think Jesus was upset about their spiritual blindness, He knew they would be cured on the way to Jerusalem, and makes the point that He is now the centre of religion, not the Temple or its priests. Now the nine may have given thanks to God in the Temple and then (if it were me) they ran home to tell their families the good news. The one who did return had no interest in the Temple or its priests, he had been cured on the way there. He was a Samaritan. He alone returned because he did not need anyone to pronounce him clean, he could see it with his own eyes and he would not have been welcomed in the Temple anyway. Instead he came and gave thanks to the Person whom he knew had healed him; faith in Jesus healed him.
Like not giving thanks often enough do we also not thank the one we should. Are our thoughts cluttered up with different priorities ? Many times the answer to that is ‘yes’ because life is complicated. For instance if we don’t say Grace before a meal we are forgetting to thank God but how many of us say ‘thank you’ to the one who cooked the meal – all of us. It’s right to thank the cook but it’s more important to thank God who made the seed and made it grow with sun and rain. Without those basics there is nothing to cook, nothing to eat. / When we heal it’s good to thank the physicians and nurses who ministered to us but it’s better to thank God who provided the wherewithal that they could bring about the cure. It’s God who made the elements that went into the pills and made the disease susceptible to them. It’s God who gave the medical team the skill to operate and remove whatever wasn’t working right.
Behind every good thing there is God. Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21). Give thanks to God.
And that’s exactly the message we get from Deuteronomy, our first reading today, which says “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God”.
In the past we have heard a lot about the so called ‘self-made man’ Deuteronomy today talks about this, there is no such thing. Sure you, man or woman, worked your fingers to the bone, but all you really did was rearrange what God had given you. Sure you rearranged it well but where did you get the gumption to do it. I give you one guess – God. And ‘self-made’ we never were, we are all a part of God’s Creation, not our own.
There is another aspect to this story that needs looking at. The lepers were a mixture of races at least Jewish and Samaritan. Normally Jews and Samaritans would not associate with each other. It seems though that while the ten were afflicted with leprosy they lived together in common misery, supporting each other in a group. But after they were cured the Samaritan was expelled by the group. He went to the only Person he can to celebrate and that is the One Who cured him – Jesus.
Two lessons. When times are difficult, people embrace people they would normally not, but when the troubles are over, it’s ‘Get out of here you bum !’ It’s seen everywhere. In the Middle East the Kurds fought long and most effectively against ISIS, but now that ISIS is on its last legs, the Kurds are being abandoned by their former western ‘friends’. When the Nazis were our common enemy we banded together to help the European Jews, but now the common threat is gone anti-Semitism is rising again. Remember God said “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:3). Watch out ! Black soldiers in the Second World War were fighting buddies against Hitler but returned home to prejudice when he was dust. In our struggle to colonise North America we at first relied on the indigenous peoples but once we got a foothold and were comfortable with our new home, we pushed them aside.
The two lessons. When all have abandoned you turn to Jesus, He is the Friend for all time. Putting trust in God, having faith in God, is the security we all need in this insecure world. And second, God fixes things that are wrong, maybe not immediately, but God is the Great Fixer. And perhaps there is a third lesson, giving thanks is never wrong. In fact God likes to receive thanks, just like the cook of your fantastic Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow, it’s the right thing to do. None of this can be done though without Faith; faith in each other, do we give thanks to God for each other ? And Faith in God, do we give thanks to God ? I hope so. Amen.