Now my guess is that the other nine were all Jews. As such they knew a fair bit about gratitude. It was a highly esteemed virtue in Judaism. We get a sense of this from the Nishmat, a prayer recited in the Sabbath morning service: “Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as the eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, Ha Shem our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors, miracles and wonders that you performed for our ancestors and for us.” Strange perhaps then that they did not think to give thanks on this occasion. Yet by birth they had been taught to believe that they were the chosen people, that God would always be good to them. So perhaps to them it came as less of a surprise that their period of suffering came to a sudden end and they were able to return to their former lives of relative privilege. They had if you like more of a sense of entitlement to good things. Maybe also they had more to distract them - families to return to, businesses to run, harvests to gather. For whatever reason they do what we sometimes do - they pray, they receive what they want, and they go on their way without a word of thanks to the One who answered their prayer. As if it was just their right.
The Samaritan on the other hand had always been the lowest of the low. Leprosy was just another indignity and impoverishment to add to harsh conditions that were familiar to him from childhood onwards. Hence his gratitude for being made whole - and Jesus would have held nothing back, those ten would have been made whole in body and mind and spirit, they would never have felt so good - his gratitude, was overwhelming. As the great Baptist preacher Spurgeon pointed out years ago, ten prayed, but only one praised.
So the attitude we start with really matters. If we approach life and God from a place of entitlement and privilege, thankfulness is not going to come easily or last long. If on the other hand we are very well aware that every single thing we have - our possessions, our health, our family, our life itself, is sheer gift, then gratefulness comes more readily.
At its core thanksgiving is an act of humility. It acknowledges a debt. Which is why in some cultures even today someone thanking another will bow down and put their face in the dirt, on the ground, the humus from which we take our word humility. This may be why we sometimes find gratitude difficult. It asks that we set aside our pride and self sufficiency and acknowledge our need of God. This is relatively easy when times are difficult, but all too easily forgotten when life is going well for us. But the tenth leper had it absolutely right, he 'turned back praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.'
'He turned back'. Now remember that Jesus just told them to go and show themselves to the priests. He did not say anything about coming back to say thank you. Yet this one leper does not go with the crowd of his fellow healed lepers. He listens to the inner prompting of the the spirit and comes back. And he praises with a loud voice. Let's just have a think about that loud voice. Leprosy actually affects the oesophageal tissue and damages the vocal chords. So the group crying out to Jesus for mercy would have done so with hoarse raspy voices. Now with full throated, healed voice the tenth leper gives praise. He does not care what anyone thinks of him, he is not bothered about sticking out in the crowd. He praises God with the whole fullness of his healed self. For whereas the other lepers are described as healed and cleansed, this one thankful leper is described as 'made well', using a word that means salvation.
So what about us? How can we stand out from the crowd and find wholeness through our thankfulness? It is a matter of attuning ourselves to the prompting of the Spirit day by day. We need to practice on the little things, so that when the bigger things come along our thankfulness muscle is well practise. Pastor Steve Garnaas Holmes puts it well in his blog this week, with which I shall conclude.
“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?” —Luke 17.17-18
Take nothing for granted,
even sunlight or breathing.
Don't let your privilege blind you
to the sheer underserved miracle
of your blessings.
Don't think you're entitled
to colors or conversation.
Let gratitude overwhelm you,
sneak up behind you
and lift you off your feet.
Pick anything to practice on--
the sunlight on the poorly painted ledge
of the apartment across from yours,
standing as if ready to leap off
into your arms--
pick something, and give thanks.
When someone asks you how you are today
then use the surprised pause
to think of what for.
The person looking at you quizzically
may give you a hint.
Penny Jones, for Pentecost 21 Year C, 9 October 2016