In September or October 1621 the Pilgrim Fathers enjoyed a special meal expressing their joy and thanks to God. The feast that was within a month or two of the first anniversary of the settlement in Plymouth Harbor, reflected the practice of Harvest Thanksgiving celebrated since the Middle Ages. And while only fifty-three of the original one hundred or so settlers had survived, a spirit of thanksgiving for God’s goodness and mercy prevailed. Furthermore, local Indians who had provided assistance during the year were invited to join the feasting. The Pilgrim Fathers not only expressed their gratitude to God but also to those who had helped them through a difficult year.
The times of thanksgiving to God in the early years of the colonies became more formalized over the years, especially following the Declaration of Independence and the aftermath of the Civil War.
How easily we fail to acknowledge our gratitude and thanks to those who have helped us or provided for us. Yet ingratitude is nothing new.
Centuries earlier Dr. Luke tells us of a time that Jesus of Nazareth was traveling in the border region between Samaria and Galilee. As he approached an unnamed village, ten lepers began shouting. These men, outcasts of society because of their infectious disease, were compelled to live beyond the fringes of the town. Hearing that Jesus, the noted celebrity, was nearby they called out, not specifically for healing, but rather for mercy – charis in the original (17:12-13).
The simplicity of Jesus’ response is striking. He didn’t lay his hands on them. He didn’t pray a loud, long-winded prayer, let alone tell them they were healed. Rather, he told them to do what the Jewish law required of anyone who was cured of leprosy: namely, to go and show themselves to the priests who were charged with the task of health inspection (Leviticus 14:2ff).
In other words Jesus put their trust in him to the test by telling them to act as though they had been cured.
So it was, Luke tells us, that as they went, they were made clean (17:14). Their going was a response of faith and obedience. If they hadn’t believed in the power of Jesus’ words they would not have gone.
But the narrative doesn’t end there. Luke goes on to tell us that one of the ten, seeing that he had been healed, turned back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. He couldn’t keep quiet. Having experienced God’s mercy through Jesus that day he wanted to let everyone else know about it. In an act of humility and gratitude he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him (Luke 17:15-16).
Almost as an afterthought Luke adds: And he was a Samaritan. It is a telling comment. The Jewish people had no time for the Samaritans, but such were the horrors of leprosy that the Jewish and Samaritan lepers had been brought together. It says a great deal that Jesus did not isolate the nine Jewish sufferers for a special blessing. Both the Jewish sufferers and this Samaritan were equal beneficiaries of his compassion and power.
It says a great deal that the Samaritan was the only one who turned back to thank Jesus – even though Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. It almost seems as though the Jewish lepers expected God’s compassion and action as a matter of right. They felt they had no need to thank him.
Yet with three deft questions Jesus exposes the failure of the nine to express their gratitude: “Were not ten cleansed?” he asked. “Where are the nine?” and, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18)
Caught up with their new-found happiness, they forgot the source (God) and instrument (Jesus) of their cure. It was clearly too much to make the effort to return to Jesus and thank him. Understandably Jesus was saddened.
For the man who turned back to Jesus there seems to have been an added blessing: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus said (17:19). While the nine were certainly healed of their leprosy, the words translated here, has made you well are literally, has saved you. For this man there was a healing of his soul as well as his body.
How easily we forget to thank God for all the good things we enjoy – especially the gift of life in all its fullness. We overlook the significance of the Incarnation where the eternal Son of God drew into himself human form, and that in his humanity he has served us in our greatest need, dying the death we deserve so that we might participate in the very glory of God. Jesus’ own resurrection and ascension into glory authenticate this.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving: Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen (from An Australian Prayer Book: 1978).
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com