November 19, 2023 ~ Thanksgiving Sunday
Rev. Beckie Sweet
Bruce Goettsche, a now-retired pastor from Illinois, shares one of his childhood memories. He says, “I remember when I was in Cub Scouts a long, long time ago, we were having a meeting with parents in the basement of the church where we met. We had a speaker for some reason that night and I have no idea what he was talking about. But I do remember something he did.
“He had ten Tootsie Pops and he asked who would like one. Well, if you know me you know I raised my hand. So, ten of us went up and were each given a Tootsie Pop and then we sat down feeling pretty special. That is until the speaker began talking again. He commented that no one, not one of us, said ‘thank you’ when he gave us the Tootsie Pop. And at that moment every one of us was embarrassed and ashamed (especially since our parents were there feeling embarrassed and ashamed, too.).” Goettsche concludes, “I have never forgotten that powerful object lesson.”
It is very possible that the speaker acquired his idea from the story of the Ten Men with Leprosy. Luke begins this account with Jesus, who is on his way to Jerusalem, but veers off course into “no man’s land” between the rival territories of Galilee and Samaria. A careful reading of the gospels tells us that Jesus rarely took a straight path to his destination. Again, we see Jesus taking detours that brought him to people on the fringes, the inbetweeners who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else.
That is Great News! Maybe today you are an inbetweener: between one stage of life and the next. In between jobs or relationships. In between full-time work and retirement. Between a relationship and whatever happens next, in between faith and doubt. Maybe, secretly, you feel like you just don’t fit in with anybody – that any labels people have slapped on you just don’t fit. Jesus’ standard operating procedure was to seek out inbetweeners – and maybe that is you today. Jesus seeks to bring healing and a new sense of wholeness.
In the in-between space, a group of ten men with leprosy cry out to Jesus from a distance. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” Some translations say they called for Mercy. Today physicians diagnose the incurable skin disease as Hansen’s Disease. But back then, any skin disorder like a rash or eczema would get labeled as leprosy. True leprosy, Hansen’s Disease, stinks—both literally and figuratively. You lose the feeling in your extremities. Sores break out, get infected, and limbs need amputation. Over time, one bears the stench of rotting flesh.
Thought to be highly contagious, people afflicted with leprosy were quarantined and banished from their communities. To make the situation worse, people believed leprosy was a curse from God manifesting physical symptoms of inward spiritual rot. If anyone came near, people afflicted with leprosy were required by Jewish law to shout out, “Unclean, unclean.” in order to warn people NOT to come closer.
But when these men saw Jesus from a distance, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Instead of more condemnation from a religious figure, they pleaded for mercy, kindness, and compassion.
Jesus came to help people see that even though religious people declared them rotten, they were at the center of God’s blessing and concern, NOT excluded from it. Just think of the condemnations hurled at people by religious folk through the years. Persons of color, those with a different nation of origin, LGBTQIA2S+, those who speak different languages, those seeking refuge from violence … Everyone needs to know that despite what the church has professed in the past, according to Jesus, each one is blessed, not cursed. Beloved, not abandoned by God. Just as those with leprosy called out to Jesus seeking mercy, we, as people who follow Jesus should be those who proclaim the Great News of love and compassion. The cry of those with leprosy for Jesus’ pity and mercy, is the cry of all in-betweeners seeking love and acceptance.
When the men cried out for mercy, Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests. If their skin rash or eczema cleared up or they had some miraculous healing, that needed to be verified by a priest in order to reenter the community, so they could once again see their families and seek employment. Luke tells us the disease of leprosy was not healed until the men first took the steps of faith to seek out a priest.
When a Samaritan discovered his healing, he returned to the source to express his gratitude. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine men?” Part of the impact of this story is that it’s a Samaritan who does the right thing and gets a double blessing. The disciples despised the Samaritans. Once, they wanted Jesus to rain down fire on a whole village of Samaritans because someone rejected them. This story, combined with the parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that Jesus wasn’t into dismissing people based on where they were from or any other human-made construct that divides people. Jesus’ acceptance is for ALL OF US.
Jesus tells the cured Samaritan man that his faith has made him well. The Greek word for well means whole, saved, at peace. It’s not just that the disease was cured and each one’s social standing was reinstated. There is something about expressing gratitude that completes us. Scientific studies find that grateful people are those with the greatest sense of well-being regardless of their situation. Gratitude is more than simply expressing thanks. It is a profound spiritual practice that encourages one to acknowledge and value the blessings of life. By cultivating gratitude, one can deepen their connection with God, nurture a sense of belonging within your community, and even enhance one’s overall mental health.
Embracing gratitude allows one to shift focus from what is lacking to what is abundant. It opens one’s heart to countless blessings, big or small. And only a few folks who focus on gratitude within a community can create a culture of appreciation that uplifts and unites everyone.
There are a LOT of unhappy and broken people in our families, in our community, and in our world, perhaps even in our church. Sometimes a person’s sense of entitlement is more profound than their sense of gratitude. Entitlement breeds resentment, jealousy, self-promotion, arrogance. Gratitude elicits healing, joy, and positive relationships.
We each have an opportunity as we encounter loved ones and acquaintances this week, to model lives focused on gratitude. Share your gratitude journal. Articulate your thoughts of gratitude. Fill your “blessing cup” with messages of gratitude for your time of prayer (as we shared that with the children a few weeks ago). Write notes of thanks telling folks how much your encounter with them means to you. Act / Serve as those who are motivated by gratitude.
Only one in ten who were cured turned back out of gratitude, and he was made whole. Be the ONE. Be the ONE who makes the extra effort, and takes the time, and models a way of living that exudes gratitude. Be the ONE!