“Gratitude and Praise”
October 13, 2019
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Leper colonies were commonplace in the world until the mid-20th century.
One of DPC’s members, Dr. Stan Topple, served as a mission doctor in a leper colony in Korea,
where he later opened an orthopedic hospital.
Many countries designated tightly controlled spaces where lepers were forced to live.
Untold numbers of persons spent months or even years of their lives
segregated from their families and others due to the condition of their skin.
Leprosy spread great fear among our ancestors.
We now know that leprosy is a bacterial infection which can lead to damage of the nerves,
the respiratory tract, the skin, and the eyes.
Nerve damage can ultimately lead to the loss of parts of a one’s extremities
from repeated injuries or infections.
Today, we understand far more about the disease and are able to treat it quickly and well.
While it is possible for the disease to spread through extensive human contact,
leprosy is actually not as contagious as we had thought. (Wikipedia.com)
Even so, throughout history, countless human beings were forced to live in squalid conditions.
Today, many of the chronically homeless live almost like lepers –
segregated from normal society, living under bridges or overpasses at the edge of the city,
avoided by others, often dependent on the kindness of strangers.
How often do we fail to see them, or avoid meeting the eyes of those who suffer so?
How often does their presence make us uncomfortable, thinking that there is nothing we can do?
As Jesus approaches a village of the West Bank, ten lepers, respectfully keeping their distance,
cry out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
They must have heard about this rabbi from Nazareth; heard of his compassion
and the many healings that Jesus has wrought.
How long had those human beings been forced to live outside of town in the leper colony?!
How long had they been fully dependent on whatever food leftovers and scraps were brought to them?
How long had they been waiting for their condition to turn, to get better, to re-enter their community?
Jesus, seeing them, tells them to go show themselves to the priests.
Don’t miss that phrase – “When Jesus saw them…”
Compassion for others begins with seeing, really seeing the people around us.
Ten human beings with a serious disease cried out to Jesus, and Jesus saw them.
He saw their suffering. He recognized their affliction.
Then he told them to go show themselves to the priest, to do what was required
to get a certificate of wellness, to be allowed to return to normal society.
All ten were seen. All ten were all healed; but only one returned to give thanks.
Jesus responded: Where are the other nine?
Is this foreigner the only one to return and give thanks?
Get up and go on your way, he told the grateful one. Your faith has made you well.
I wonder what his name was, that Samaritan who had been confined to the leper colony.
Though we are not given his name, his story is recorded for all of posterity.
Until the end of time, this Samaritan’s story will be told.
I wonder if he had family. Was he married? Did he have children?
This Samaritan, who had been pushed to the margins by the dominant society,
was the only one to return to Jesus, the only one to show gratitude, to offer praise.
Before he went to the priest, before he cleaned himself up,
before he sat at a regular table and ate a meal,
before he saw his family or returned to his place of work, he offered gratitude to God.
What if we felt that way every Sunday, the first day of the week?
What if we all felt that we could not possibly get on with the rest of our lives,
with our chores at home, with our precious time with family,
with our sports activities and hobbies, or our vacations,
until we first sang our praises to God and offered ourselves humbly before him?
Ten lepers were physically healed of a skin disease that afternoon;
but only one at the end of the day was spiritually whole and well.
“Your faith has made you well,” Jesus said. Your gratitude and praise has made you whole.
What of the other nine?
With the official release from the priest, they could re-enter society.
They could go hug their families. They could return to work. They could try to make up for lost time.
They probably didn’t mean to be ungrateful. They were just focused on what was ahead of them.
They didn’t think to go back to Jesus, to remember what he had done,
to offer themselves in humble gratitude.
Dorothy Butler Bass, in her book Grateful, reveals that, in several studies some years ago,
it was discovered that men found it more difficult than women to be grateful.
Expectations of male self-reliance and not wanting to be dependent on anyone, even on God,
affect men’s attitudes. Men, in general, do not want to be in debt to anyone, even for gratitude.
What the studies discovered is that self-sufficiency and radical individualism are serious stumbling
blocks for being grateful. (Bass, p. 16)
But none of us is able to live independently.
Yesterday morning, I was at the hospital with a long time church member.
Henry has recently had hip reconstruction surgery and is back at the hospital due to some
Henry would be the first to tell you how dependent he has become in recent days
and how grateful he is for the wonderful care that he has received.
The reality is that most of us, at some point or another,
will become fully dependent on others for our care, whether due to physical or mental limitations.
What we neglect to realize is how dependent we already are, every day.
As human beings, we need each other every day; we rely on each other.
We depend, more than we realize, upon those closest to us for emotional support and encouragement,
for the daily bread of companionship and love.
And every day, we depend on others we do not even know, like the guy who picks up our trash at the
end of the driveway every week or the person who drives the wrecker and removes the car that is
blocking the interstate, or the workers at the Water System who ensure that clean water flows from
Given the terrible, ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, well-documented in a recent documentary,
safe water coming out of our faucets is not to be taken for granted.
Simply turning on the sink and receiving clean water is truly an occasion for gratitude.
Gratitude changes everything.
Gratitude affects our mental and physical health.
Living with a sense of grateful helps us live longer.
But gratitude can be so elusive. Gratitude can be “so easily blocked by regret, or grief, or anger, or
Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, wrote:
“When people lack gratitude, something is missing in their humanity.
People can “almost be defined by their attitude towards gratitude.”
Wiesel claims “our ability to experience life as a gift, to treasure that gift, and to feel its power,
even in the most violent and demeaning of circumstances,
is the very essence of human existence. (Gratitude is not about) what we have, but that we are.” (p. 44)
Poet Marge Piercy wrote, “Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third.” (p.43)
“Gratitude is not about stuff. Gratitude is the emotional response to the surprise of our very
“Gratitude, at its deepest and perhaps more transformative level, is not warm feelings about what we
have. Instead, gratitude is the deep ability to embrace the gift of who we are, that we are…” (p. 43)
If we do not feel grateful, something may be blocking our emotions.
“Feelings are the data that point toward our inner realities.
Feelings alert us to what is unresolved in our lives, what is missing in our hearts,
the brokenness that needs mending, and the relationships that need tending.
If we do not feel grateful, something is blocking our feelings –
and whether that something is learned or feared is important to explore.” (Bass, p. 35)
Perhaps those other nine lepers told themselves they deserved that healing.
They had fought that terrible disease long enough, they had suffered long enough.
“I should be well; I deserve to be well!
With all those healthy people walking by our little leper colony every day,
it is my turn for some normalcy and freedom.”
Perhaps those other nine lepers were resentful.
God should never have let me suffer like this in the first place.
Why did God do this to me or allow this to happen to me!?
Gratitude is not to be taken for granted.
Mary Jo Leddy, author of Radical Gratitude,
claims that practicing gratitude includes thinking with our hearts and seeing differently.
Lean into feelings of gratefulness, pay attention to them, speak them out loud.
Develop a way of looking at the world that looks with “soft eyes”.
Spend time with “like-spirited” people,
people who look at life as a glass half-full, not half-empty, people who speak with appreciation for
others, not with criticism for others, people who recognize daily life as gift. (Bass, p. 188)
Consider what situations or which persons encourage you to feel gratitude.
Robert Emmons in The Little Book of Gratitude encourages us to engage at least one practice
of giving thanks every day. Emmons claims that “Gratitude amplifies goodness,
rescues us from negative emotions, and connects us to others in meaningful ways.” (Bass, p. 187)
To live with gratitude in these polarized and anxious days can serve as an act of rebellion.
To live with gratitude in a world fraught with fear and scarcity, with resentment and rage,
can serve as an act of non-violent resistance.
Gratitude can able a people to be resilient in the midst of whatever challenges they may be facing.
Dorothy Butler Bass claims that “Gratitude is not only an emotion, and an ethical way of life.
It is also a disposition, an awareness, a set of habits.
But ultimately,” she writes, “gratitude is a place—perhaps the place—
where we find our truest and best selves.” (p. 194)
That lone Samaritan discovered his truest and best self when, because of a deep sense of gratitude,
he stopped in his tracks, retraced his steps, sang praises before Jesus,
and prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet, humbly offering himself in worship.
Get up now and go, Jesus said to him. Go now and embrace fully your life, whatever the
Your faith has made you well. Your gratitude and praise has made you whole.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church