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Since my infancy, I have heard the stories of Jesus and grew up with their messages ringing in my ears, but I never cease to marvel how sometimes deeper meanings leap out at me, and I see the events with different eyes. The story of the nine lepers is one of those stories.
“And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Luke 17:11-19)
These ten men were outcasts because of their disease. They lived in leper colonies, where there were strict laws against lepers mingling with other people. Thus, the men stood “afar off.” Evidently, they had heard of Jesus and his miraculous power, because they addressed him as “Jesus, Master”. Each leper had faith enough to believe that Jesus could heal, because each hurried off to see the priest. Only one turned back as he began to witness the healing take place. He first praised God, who had answered his fervent prayer for healing.
One can only imagine how many times he had prayed. When people encounter a crisis, they naturally turn to God with all the energy of their heart, asking for miracles. He had probably spent hours and days crying to God for his release from this terrible affliction.
All ten of these lepers had probably prayed many times for a miracle, but the Samaritan seems to have had a special habit of recognizing blessings and expressing gratitude. The other lepers were probably Jewish, but nationality was not the issue. Every human being in the world fits into two categories: Those who habitually express thanks and those who do not. I spend my time traveling from one category to the other.
Sometimes I am filled with gratitude, sometimes I am preoccupied with my daily life, and I go on blindly counting my afflictions rather than my blessings. In fact, I could probably make an endless list in a few minutes of all the things that have gone wrong in my life, but I’d have to think about the things that have gone right.
I think Jesus is just as disappointed by my lack of gratitude, as he was with those who took his gift and blindly ran off to the priest. Perhaps they knelt in the evening. Perhaps they said a quick silent prayer. Perhaps they remembered two days later, but they missed Jesus’ second blessing. “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.” Leprosy may not have been the Samaritan’s only affliction. To become whole means to be given the blessing of being complete, both body and spirit. Jesus totally healed the leper. The others may have been healed from their physical disease, but they were not made whole.
I have had glimpses of what it’s like to be whole. Sometimes I can feel Jesus’ love so intently that I know that he is near, and is hearing my heartfelt prayer. Joy unspeakable fills my soul and my brain is filled with light. I know God is listening. Those are the times that I have spent time on my knees enumerating my glorious blessings, and discussing my life with my Father. In contrast, when I get too busy, I fail to go to my knees to talk to God about my problems or to express thanks, and I feel fragmented and alone. I share my troubles with anyone who will listen, but I never feel understood or validated. I feel disjointed and broken.
My fractured feelings bring to mind my computer, when it needs defragmenting. My computer is slow and unproductive. Thousands of files are scattered all over the computer, but through the process of defragmentation, the files are brought back into proper order. The computer runs faster and there are fewer glitches. Becoming whole is God’s way of defragmenting our lives. No wonder he has commanded us to give thanks!
Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.
Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.
Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.
Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.
Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; (1 Chronicles 16:8-12)
The other day, I received an e-mail from a friend who had included the following thought. It brings gratitude into its proper place. It is the foundation of all other virtues.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” —Melody Beattie
I would add, gratitude is the beginning of charity. Gratitude keeps you from being self-absorbed. You have to be looking for others’ deeds of kindness before you can say, “Thank you.” You have to be looking for the ways in which God has blessed your life, so that you can properly thank him. As you recognize the goodness in others, naturally your heart turns to the question of how you can help others to feel the way you do. Gradually your heart is filled with charity, which is the “pure love of Christ.”
You begin to feel the way He feels about people, and you have an even greater desire to help others and to bless lives. As you bless more lives, God blesses you more abundantly and you have greater reasons for expressing thanks. It is a wonderful cycle.
In its purest form, gratitude emulates the law of the harvest. What we send out into the world comes back to us. If we are looking for ways to express thanks, it is difficult to see all the negative things about other people. We do not feel the need for gossip, or find fault, because we focus on expressing our appreciation. As we express our gratitude, others want to be around us, and treat us with kindness, because they like the feeling you give them when you let them know you appreciate their deeds.
I wish I were perfect! I wish I could always be grateful and express my love to everyone. It is easier to understand the way things work, than to put your own flowery advice into practice. This Thanksgiving, I want to recommit to a life of gratitude. I’m not talking about just “Thank yous” that are said in passing, but really making a list of kindnesses people do for me. I want to let them know with deep feeling that I appreciate them. I want to have times on my knees where I feel God’s smile upon me because I have recognized “His hand in all things.” I don’t want to ever give the impression that I am one of the nine lepers who went away without expressing praise to Him who has blessed me beyond measure.
My parents taught me, “He who receives all things with thankfulness will be made glorious.” I believe that with all my heart. We become glorious because we are in total submission to God’s will.
We thank Him for both the good and the bad. We thank Him for the lessons our adversities have taught us. We thank Him for His bounty and we will be able to recognize the difference between needs and wants.
Gratitude will make us a better people, and we will see the hand of God moving in our lives. PD