When I have come to the other side of a project that I have been working on for quite some time, I usually go through a moment of reflection. During this moment I ask myself questions like, What went well? What could have gone differently? Etc...
At some point during this moment of reflection an idea will pop into my mind and I'll say, "WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE!?" (Kinda like when George Constanza thought of his "Jerk store" comeback a little too late... Has nothing to do with this post).
As the above photo says, the reason some things escape us is because we fail to notice them. And the reason we fail to notice them is because we are so focused on another area that the peripheral ideas, even the great ones, just slip on by. So, while the things we pay attention to might take us to great places, it is the things that we fail to notice that always hold us back, and keep us from experiencing the depth and fullness of life.
This is especially true when it comes to gratitude. One cannot be grateful without being aware. And the more awareness a person has, the deeper their gratitude can be.
In the passage we are focusing on today there are ten lepers who approach Jesus for healing. The leper was an outcast. Because of their unclean status they had to stay as far away from people as possible. And if they did encounter people they would often have to yell from a distance; a warning shot, if you will. Thus we see them in this passage meeting Jesus, not within the town, right at the edge of a village. And they do not walk up to Jesus but, "Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'"
As we have seen of Jesus, he delights to show mercy to those who seek it. It brings him joy to do things like this. Therefore when these ten ask for mercy, it is mercy they receive. Jesus sends them off towards the priest to complete the ritual that would get them declared clean so that they can rejoin society. They were not just healed, but they were given their lives back. All because of an encounter with Jesus.
If we were reading this story for the first time we would expect them to be extremely grateful, possibly even dedicate their lives to him. So it comes as a shock to us when we hear Jesus say, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?"
I find myself standing in judgement against these nine. "The nerve! After all that Jesus did for you, the very least you could do was give him a superficial 'thanks.' What was so important that you couldn't return and do that?"
To be sure, these lepers were probably filled with joy over their restored status. They probably went off to be in community with the loved ones they weren't allowed to be around. Not bad things, not at all. Indeed, if we look at the text and assume that they obeyed Jesus, these nine lepers went off to fulfill a religious obligation. This is a good thing, yes? Maybe. But the heart of a person touched by God should view certain things, like strengthening relationships (Matt. 5:24), more than fulfilling religious duties.
They were suddenly religious, but ungrateful. And I, for one, can't stand that kind of ingratitude... At least in other people.
It's very easy to condemn, isn't it? Easy to look down upon these nine with a condescending, "I would never do that!" But their behavior, sad as it was, is actually descriptive of how many people respond to God's mercy today. Like the ten lepers, we are quick to yell loudly for mercy when we are in need. But once the need has been met, how many yell as loudly in thanksgiving?
Once we get what we need we are off to enjoy the benefits of God's mercy, but we do so without expressing gratitude over the mercies provided. Think of the quality of your devotional life when you had a need. When the need was met, did your prayers take a hit? Did you have less time for scripture reading and meditation.
"But the other nine, where are they?"
The simple answer is that they are off living their life. Somehow they missed it, they failed to notice. Oh, they noticed that they were healed, but they failed to notice the work of God that they experienced through Jesus. The focused on what he did, but failed to notice him. True gratitude not only notices what was done, but it sees the sacrifice of the person who made the change possible.
This is what the Samaritan leper did. He saw that he was healed, but he also saw the face of Christ in his healing. Therefore, although he had a list of things to do now that he was healed, the primary thing was to go and worship. He simply goes to tell Jesus that he was grateful. In other words, he told Jesus that he noticed the wonderful work he did in his life. He noticed Jesus when he had a need, and after the need was met he saw him even more clearly.
The challenge we face is to become people who take notice. It is too easy to become people who take things for granted. We do that all the time. So we expect, or feel like we deserve, prompt service, perfect meals, doors held, respect, etc... The truth is, we deserve nothing. Everything we receive is a gift from God.
Thanksgiving Day provides us with an opportunity to take notice, and give thanks. It is a very commendable exercise. And I hope that as you survey your life you will find many reasons to model the Samaritan who was once a leper.
"Beyond all else that you have given me, grant me yet one more thing: an unfailingly grateful heart."