Being Thankful – Not for Me…For You

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Pentecost 18 | 10.13.2019 | Luke 17:11-19

In today’s story Jesus performed a miracle cure of ten people and only one showed gratitude. Jesus commended that cured man’s gratitude.

That’s the general summary, but I don’t want this sermon to come off as a politeness lesson to say your ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’, because it’s nice. Now, of course, that’s not untrue. Politeness is a virtue and a respectful thing to do, but I don’t want this to be received as a ‘follow-the-rules-to-please-God’ sermon.

I say this because I think Jesus went far beyond a mere ‘politeness’ instruction in today’s story. He didn’t just offer a mere behavioral preference. He pointed out the life-altering gift that practicing gratitude can be for the one who practices it.

At the end of the story, when Jesus was given thanks, he did not commend the man because being flattered made him feel good. He didn’t say, “Good job, dude. Thank you for being so polite to me.” Rather, Jesus said something peculiar. After receiving the thank you, Jesus said, “…your faith has made you well” (17:19).

This is peculiar because it’d be as if you received a thank you card in the mail for a gift you gave, and instead of thinking, “That was polite of them,” you thought instead, “That was healthy of them.” Peculiar.

Not only that, think about this: all ten lepers were cured…but only to the man who gave thanks did Jesus say, ‘He was made well.’ Why? What is the difference? I thought all were ‘made well.’

Maybe not. Let’s talk a little Greek (your periodic reminder that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written in Greek). The word well, here, is translated from the Greek word, swzw (sodzo). Sodzo is a rich word—it doesn’t simply mean cured or cleansed, it means more holistically to be made well, or to be rescued, preserved, or kept safe.[1] Again, all ten were cured, but only one of whom was made well, made sodzo. What is the difference?

 I’m beginning to think that while all were cured, only one really experienced healing. And what is the difference between being cured and being healed?

For that I turn to the words that preface our traditional Lutheran “Service of Healing.” Here is how that service is described in our worship books:

“In its ministry of healing, the church does not replace the gifts of God that come through the scientific [and medical] community nor does it promise a cure. Rather, the church offers and celebrates gifts such as these: God’s presence with strength and comfort in time of suffering…wholeness [and] peace…”[2]

So, there is a distinction between being cured and healed. The implication here is that the difference between experiencing a cure and experiencing healing is that healing happens on a level beyond medical cures. Healing is beyond a wound becoming better or not. Healing not merely getting cured by cancer; rather, healing is the knowledge of God’s presence, healing is the feeling of deep joy and hope, or love…despite cancer; healing is the embrace that cancer doesn’t define us. A cure is treating the outside, healing is experiencing something inside or beyond. So, you can experience a cure, but not healing – like these nine other lepers. I think you can also experience healing, even when there is no cure. Any of us who have seen someone with terminal illness gain acceptance and experience joy in the face of their own death have seen that. That’s the difference.

And here Jesus is saying this person who gave gratitude, they’re not merely cured, they’re also experiencing a healing, a moment of sodzo, because, according to Jesus, it was the man’s faith, and “the man’s faith was…his gratitude.”[3]

Now, how do cured and healed lepers apply to us? Well, number one I know that some of us have experienced miracle cures for our physical ailments, even if temporarily. Number two, whether we know it or embrace it or not, all of us have the cure of Christ’s love. The threat of sin and death forever defining has been cured by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

So again, this is not a sermon on how being politely thankful all the time will earn you forgiveness, God’s love, and access to heaven. No – what this sermon is about is that, essentially, Jesus has already cured us, and is offering a lesson on how we can respond to that cure in a way that can be healing. One way, is gratitude, not for him, but for us, to live not just cured, but healed, not just forgiven, but freed, not just loved, but living into and sharing that love. Jesus points out not how gratitude pleases him, but points out what gratitude can do for us.

Now I want to be very clear: all of us are forgiven and claimed by Christ Jesus and by his work and love alone. Whether we give thanks for that promise or not does not void or strengthen that promise, just like whether or not these lepers thanked Jesus voided or sustained their cure. They were cured no matter what. We are given salvation and the love of God no matter what. But giving thanks can compel us to more deeply live into and out of that promise. Giving thanks can inform our life after salvation.

Quickly, I also want to caution us from forcing people to feel thankful when they are in states of grief. That is not only ineffective, but flirts with being abusive. Jesus is complimenting the gratitude of a cured person here. He is not chasing down the others and shaming them for not being thankful. So the lesson here is not to tell a dying cancer patient to be thankful for the life they’ve had (remember, the leper was cured, too).

Having said that, Jesus’ teaching here is that practicing gratitude can be a useful spiritual practice in turning around the way we view our own life (cured or not)—living sodzo, is ultimately something on which the other nine healed lepers missed out. They were cured just like this Samaritan leper, but they just carried on, never stopping to realize or commemorate what had just happened, never fully entering into the healing the new life they were experiencing through the practice of gratitude.

Trust me, I know there are days where the last thing we want to do is give thanks. But, if we can muster it, then we make ourselves a little bit more “aware of God’s grace,” and all of a sudden we begin to live with a “spirit of the grateful leper.”[4]

Not only that, life without the practice of gratitude is a life where eventually only darkness rules. Anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, negativity, bitterness—these demons begin to monopolize our world, so much so that even when cured of whatever ails or threatens us, we still aren’t healed. Thus Jesus is compelling us to the practice of gratitude not for his sake, but for ours. I suppose you could say that gratitude is an exorcism, an exorcism of those demons that pretend to rule our worlds and replacing it with the confidence, with the gratitude, that our reality ultimately rests in a most merciful and loving God.

Gratitude does not fetch us God’s presence or earn us gold stars for being polite; rather, gratitude causes us to recognize the God who is already there, who has already given us infinite gold stars through his own eternal and conquering love.

So not for God but in response to what God has already done, I invite you to gratitude, to living with greater recognition that you are God’s beloved. Amen.

     [1] Cf. Barclay M. Newman Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Germany: C.H. Beck, 1993), 177.

     [2] ELW, Leaders’ Desk Edition, 660.

     [3] R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, The New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), v. 9, 327.

     [4] Ibid., 328.

Leave a Comment