Where Are the Other Nine?

Luke 17:11-19 

One of my favorite movies ever is “Gone with the Wind.”  There are so many memorable scenes in it.  The burning of Atlanta.  The scene where all the Confederate wounded are laid out by the train tracks during the siege of Atlanta.  The scene where Scarlett makes a dress out of the drapes so that she can go and ask Rhett for help without him realizing how poor she has become.  And, of course, the scene where Rhett walks out of Scarlett’s life with the unforgettable farewell, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

One of the scenes takes place at a fund-raising ball in Atlanta with proceeds going to the Confederate troops.  A basket is being passed to collect donations, and Melanie Wilkes places her wedding ring in the basket.  She says, “It may help my husband.”  Rhett Butler says to her, “I know how much that means to you.”  Scarlett, who had married Melanie’s brother Charles to spite her real love, Ashley Wilkes, was soon widowed.  She places her wedding ring in the basket, too.  At that, Rhett says to her, “And I know how much that means to you, Scarlett.”  (Not much.) 

In the story about the ten lepers who were healed, it would seem that even though they all had the same experience of healing, it meant much more to one of them than to the others.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he was passing near the border between Galilee and Samaria.  He saw ten lepers, standing off at a distance.  They had to stand at a distance; it was required that they stay away from other people.  At least one legal authority in Jesus’s day stated that lepers had to stand at least 50 yards away from other people.  They also had to live outside town limits, and if not for the generosity of people who left them food and money, they would starve to death.

People were terrified of leprosy, and of people who had leprosy, in those days.  They knew less about it than we do today.  It reminds me of the way people were terrified of AIDS and AIDS patients when it first became known.  Leprosy was incurable, and there were detailed regulations in Jewish law to protect the people from contracting leprosy.  In essence, those laws isolated lepers from the rest of the community.

These ten lepers saw Jesus passing by and they started shouting out to him to help them.  They called him by name, and they referred to him as Master.  So, they must have heard of him from other people and knew his reputation as a healer.  They hoped that he would heal them, too.  And so, they cried out for his attention.  Jesus responded to them by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests.  The priests were kind of the public health officials who could certify that someone, like a leper, had been healed of a disease.  That person who had been healed would no longer be considered contaminated and could be restored to the community. 

All ten of those lepers must have had faith in Jesus, because they all started walking toward the priests BEFORE the leprosy disappeared.  They believed that they would be healed if Jesus was telling them to go and show themselves to the priests. And as they were walking away, they were cured of their disease. 

I wonder what was going through their minds as they realized that they were well.  Maybe they began to think about going home and surprising their families.  Maybe they were looking forward to being able to do normal things again, like get a job or go to the market, without people staring at them and avoiding any contact with them.  I don’t know what they were thinking.  But I do know that only one of them thought to go back, and that man was a Samaritan.

Now, that might not mean much to you or me.  It’s like saying one of them was from Vermont or Massachusetts.  Just a guy from a neighboring state.  But not in Galilee.  Not in Jesus’s day.  The Jews and the Samaritans were sworn enemies and had been for hundreds of years.  They were involved in a family feud that went back a long, long way.  Jews and Samaritans normally had nothing to do with each other.  The only reason this Samaritan was part of the group of lepers was probably because in their misery and suffering, they really didn’t care who was with them.  But not one of the other nine even thought to thank Jesus, to thank God, for what had happened to him.  Only this Samaritan.  Perhaps his healing meant more to him because he was a Samaritan and would have had less reason to expect a Jewish rabbi to help him.  I don’t know.  But I do know that his gratitude as genuine and was born out of his faith.

How many of us have developed a healthy attitude of gratitude?  How many of us think to thank God for blessings big and small?  How often do we just take God and those blessings for granted?

There is a series of books called The Mitford Series, written by Jan Karon.  They are novels about an Episcopal priest, Father Tim, who is serving a small parish in a small town called Mitford in the mountains of North Carolina.  I love these books.  I know the people in them, the people in his church, the people in that small town.  I see them in my own churches and in the small towns where I have lived.  And I love Father Tim’s way of being pastor to his people and his community.

In one of the books, These High, Green Hills, Father Tim takes a moment to give thanks for the small things.  He remembers the words of Oswald Chambers, who wrote, “We look for visions of heaven and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us.”  He thinks about the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts … Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.”  And Father Tim thinks to himself, “When we view the little things with thanksgiving, even they become big things.”

In these days of political turmoil, in these days of wildfires and floods and freak winter storms, in these days of war and violence and addiction and fear, one thing that keep us from utter despair is to look for the little things for which we can give thanks.  The smell of coffee in the morning.  A child’s sticky kiss.  The autumn leaves.  A phone call from an old friend.  Someone who asks, “How are you?” and really wants to know.  Clear blue skies.  The smell of rain.  The sound of laughter or music.  Hot cider and pumpkin pie.  A hand to hold.  A warm place to rest at night.  There are so many things that we can give thanks for.  So tonight, when you go to bed, before you go to sleep, I want you to think of at least three things to thank God for.  And do it again tomorrow night, and the next night, and the night after that.  And I would bet that your attitude of gratitude will make a difference in the way you see the world and the way you relate to God.