Photo ©2008, Kristian Stenslie
This past summer, I received a “thank you” note in the mail from one of my canoe customers. I hadn’t expected a “thank you.” I was just doing my job. Nonetheless, it felt good to know I was appreciated.
Taking time to thank people for something they’ve done for us is an important thing to do. Again and again, I’ve heard people say how important it is to them. I know I really like to be thanked. It feels nice to be appreciated. It also feels nice to know you have acknowledged those who have helped you
Unfortuntately, I must admit that I am not always good at taking time to thank people like I should. Sometimes, when I’m feeling guilty about failing to thank properly I will tell myself, “But people are supposed to give because they want to give, not so that they can get a ‘thank you’ back?”
And while there is truth to that statement… true giving doesn’t expect to be paid… (by a “thank you” or anything else), I know full well that giving “thank yous,” saying “thank you,” is a simple, beautiful way that we affirm our shared humanity… our shared need for help, as well as our shared desire to know we are valued, appreciated.
Giving a “thank you” note, saying “thank you,” is a good and proper thing to do when someone has done something for us or given something to us.
However, that is not what today’s Gospel lesson about gratitude is getting at. The exchange between Jesus and the one Samaritan leper has nothing to do with God’s need to feel appreciated, or the other 9 lepers’ need to learn their manners. And we should absolutely not consider this lesson to be about the importance of saying “thank you.”
It’s about something much deeper than that.
This is a fascinating passage. At first it seems like it’s going to be a story about the miracle of faith. 10 lepers come to Jesus and beg for his healing. Jesus does nothing other than simply tell the lepers to show themselves to the priests. The 10 lepers then seem to demonstrate great faith by going as Jesus directed, needing no proof other than Jesus’ word that they would be healed. As they are on their way, their healing occurs.
Now that in itself sounds like a complete story. It could easily be over there; but it’s not. In fact, the faith of the lepers doesn’t really count for anything in this story. They are criticized. We sometimes think that the whole point of faith… the definition of faith… is simply to believe the unbelievable. But that’s not it at all… and this story shows us that.
The remainder of today’s lesson follows (and praises) the one leper who actually disobeys Jesus. He does not go to the priests, as instructed, but turns around and goes back to Jesus… because he realizes, he grasps, that there, in Jesus, is something you just don’t walk away from.
You see, this lesson is not about good manners; it’s about living with eyes open and seeing clearly where life, healing and salvation are found… and then refusing to let go of that source of life.
See that chickadee in the photo. I want to tell you a little about feeding the chickadees from the hand. In the dead of winter, my family and I will sometimes stand out in the cold with hands outstretched inviting the chickadees to come and feast on some nutritious seeds and nuts.
There’s always plenty of chickadees around. It takes them awhile to get comfortable with us. Some will perch on a branch a few feet away, just watching for the longest time. Finally one of them will take the plunge and zip down to the hand, grab a good morsel and fly off.
Some chickadees never do come to the hand. Others are always very hesitant, waiting for a while on the branch before they go for it; then dash away as soon as they can get a seed in the beak.
But still others are absolutely delightful to watch. They know a good thing when they have found it… and they will not be denied. You can see them 50 yards off, come tearing around a spruce tree in the distance. They’re bounding through air like a tiny black and white bouncing ball… right at you. There’s no hesitation, there’s no landing on a branch. It’s straight into the hand. Then they sort through the seeds, moving this one, checking that one. Carefully weighing the quality of each one until they claim the one they want. And off they go. But they will return, again and again.
That particular chickadee attitude is what I think today’s Gospel lesson is about. It’s about knowing where the good things that give life are found… and zeroing in on that source, claiming it, returning to it again and again.
Cold North Dakota winters are no joke. And survival for the chickadees is a serious matter. They gotta know where to go to get nourishment to make it through to spring.
And life is like that for us. If we want to have enough strength to be the poeple God created us to be, then we need to know where to go to receive that strength.
Today’s Gospel lesson, specifically, invites us to have the good sense of the Samaritan leper. Know were life comes from, and get yourself to Christ. Our Bread of Life. Our Living Water. Do it with purpose. Do it with joy. Do it with boldness. Do it with hope.
Go to… return to Christ. That is where we belong. That is where we are made well… and made fit for living.
We are able… invited… to encounter Christ in many ways. We meet him in scripture and there he speaks to us and teaches us. We meet him in prayer and there he strengthens us. We receive him in the sacrament of Holy Communion and there he nourishes us with his life. We encounter him in worship… the liturgy, the hymns… and there he feeds us with grace. We discover him nature, blessing us with beauty and wonder… and in our work, where he shows us the meaning of service. He meets us in acts of kindness and mercy… whether we receive them or administer them… and there he shows us the Kingdom of God.
Returning to Christ in these ways, we find… and receive… wisdom, forgiveness, love, strength, healing, growth… life. And these are things we deeply need, not just once, but continually in our lives, like a garden needs water.
We are to learn from the Samaritan leper. He considered his life. He weighed what was valuable. He realized what Jesus offered him… life and well-being beyond physical healing. And he realized he could not just walk away from that. It was no longer enough for him to just be healed of his leprosy. He once thought that was enough, but when he encountered Jesus, he realized that his need went much deeper than that.
Returning to Christ, because he offers life, reflects more than gratitude. As Jesus declares in today’s Gospel, it reflects faith. Like the Samaritan, may we too find that our gratitude is transformed into faith as it draws us back to the source of life. In our returning to Christ, again and again, may the wonderful words of Jesus apply to us as well: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”