By The Rev. Sherry Deets
21 Pentecost, Proper 23 – October 13, 2013
Kermit the Frog said, “It isn’t easy being green.” Others say, “It isn’t easy being poor … or being a person of color … or being uneducated … or being a person with a disability … or …” Well, you get the idea. It isn’t easy being on the outside.
Most of us have experienced that truth at some point in our lives. We haven’t been part of the group who knew the inside scoop or who were the people of privilege, or part of the group that was in charge. Whatever it is that separates people from others, we know what it’s like to be on the outside.
In Jesus’ day, there was a group who were far outside the usual barriers that separate people; in fact, they were overshadowed by this one barrier — one most people considered a permanent obstacle.
These people were lepers. They could not live with their families. They could not associate with anyone who did not have the disease. They could not attend worship services. They had to call out a warning in a loud voice whenever uninfected persons were nearby. While Jews and Samaritans made a choice not to associate with each other, those who were afflicted with leprosy were left with no option except to stay on the margins of the community.
Jesus was traveling through an area between Samaria and Galilee. Those with leprosy lived together regardless of ethnic differences. Learning that Jesus was in the vicinity, 10 of these lepers approached as close as they dared and then called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” This was not a normal request from these outsiders. Usually there was no help, no contact, probably not even an answer to their pleas. But they had heard enough about Jesus to call him “Master,” take a chance and call out to him.
And Jesus heals them. He says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they went, they were made clean. Why is it that when Jesus heals ten lepers only one of them returns to say thank you? Maybe it was because the nine were so intent on getting to the priests to have themselves declared healed that they didn’t notice that they were already well? Only one of them looked at himself to see that he was already freed of his disease.
In other words, nine were intent on doing as they were told. One was so overwhelmed by being made whole that all he could do was run back to give thanks. The other nine remained convinced that they could not be healed until they had satisfied the letter of the law – shown themselves to the priests. They knew what they had to do. The one who returned knew who he now was.
I want to make clear that the nine did nothing wrong. They did as they were told and were blessed.
The one who turns back, however, is identified by Jesus, recognized and affirmed that he not only saw that he was healed but returned to give thanks, and was then blessed a second time. So what do I mean by beling blessed a second time? Wasn’t he made well like the others? Yes, but Jesus concludes his exchange by inviting the man to rise and go on his way, saying that his faith has made him not only physically well, but also whole and, indeed, saved. That’s part of the complex and multivalent meaning of the Greek root word σoζω (transliterated as “sozo” and pronounced “sod-zo”) Jesus uses.
So what does the man who returned receive? Certainly, the blessing of healing, as did the other nine. But also the blessing that comes from recognizing blessing and giving thanks — the blessings of wholeness and even salvation.
Have you ever noticed just how powerful it is not only to receive blessing but also to name it and give thanks for it? Maybe you’re at dinner with family or friends, and it’s one of those meals, prepared with love and served and eaten deliberately, where time just stops for a little while and you’re all caught up and bound together by this sense of community and joy. And then you lean over to another, or maybe raise your glass in a toast, and say, “This is great. This time, this meal, you all. Thank you.” And in seeing and giving thanks, the original blessing is somehow multiplied. You’ve been blessed a second time.
Or maybe you were at the Grand Canyon (or some other wonderful spot), taking in the beauty of the vista, when you lean over to your companion and say, “This is so beautiful. I’m so glad you’re here to share it with me.” And again, the blessing is multiplied and you’ve been blessed yet again.
Thanksgiving is like that. It springs from perception — our ability to recognize blessing — and articulation — giving expression, no matter how inadequate it may seem at the time, but giving expression of our gratitude for that blessing. And every time the two are combined — sight and word — giving thanks actually grants a second blessing.
Gratitude is a noble emotion. Gratitude draws us out of ourselves into something larger, bigger, and grander than we could imagine and joins us to the font of blessing itself. But maybe, just maybe, gratitude is also the most powerful emotion, as it frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and emboldens us to do more and dare more than we’d ever imagined. Even to return to a Jewish rabbi to pay homage when you are a Samaritan because you’ve realized that you are more than a Samaritan, or a leper, or even a healed leper; you are a child of God, whole and accepted and beautiful just as you are.
And that’s what the nine missed. It’s not that they did anything wrong; it’s that they didn’t see their good fortune and didn’t voice their blessing, and so missed out on also being made whole.
So here is an idea for you. Some of you may have already heard about the idea of a gratitude journal. All that’s needed is a notebook, a pen, and a few minutes each evening.
Every evening reflect on the day and celebrate three blessings you experienced. Then put your gratitude into words by writing down a phrase about each blessing. Do this for thirty days and then see what happens.
You may find yourself writing down more. But write down at least a phrase. And you may find yourself listing more blessings than three. But write down at least three.
And after a month has passed, you may want to keep doing this. But when you start, commit to thirty days.
This practice may transform your life.
You may discover for yourself what the pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he said: “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
You may find out for yourself the truth of perhaps the most famous sentence from the mystical writer Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would be enough.”
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