He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Thanksgiving for me has no rivals among holidays (as opposed to “holy days”). Here in the States, we’ve overstuffed it with lavish feasts, store parades, football games, and gearing up to rise ridiculously early the next day to get a jump on the Christmas bargains. I wonder what George Washington, who declared the holiday, would think of this. On one level, he’d be aghast at the nonsense we’ve attached to it. But I also think he’d be pleased we’ve not abandoned the custom altogether. Buried somewhere beneath the turkeys and floats, the scrimmages and advertising, recognition still lives that there’s much to be thankful for.
Telling God “thank You” surpasses polite obligation. When done sincerely, it finishes the work His blessings start. It reawakens awareness we’d be nothing—and have nothing—without Him. “If the LORD had not been on our side,” Psalm 124 says, “we’d have been swept away.” We’re free to accept God’s blessings and go on our merry way, never returning to thank Him for being on our side. It makes no difference to Him. In Mark 5.45, Jesus says God sends sunshine and rain equally on the evil and the good—His favor, like His love, comes without condition. But coming back in gratitude makes an enormous difference for us as an act of faith, a confession of belief He can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3.20) Thanksgiving makes faith happen and faith makes things happen. Luke 17 offers a superb example of this principle.
From a Distance
Jesus is traveling the border between Samaria and Galilee en route to Jerusalem when 10 lepers call to Him from a distance, begging His mercy. He hears them and instructs, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” They obey and Luke reports as they go, they’re “cleansed.” After one of them, a Samaritan, realizes what Jesus had done, he comes back rejoicing loudly and falls at the Lord’s feet to offer thanks. “What happened to the other nine? Weren’t they cleansed also? How is it that only one saw fit to stop and thank God for this—and he’s not even a Jew?” Jesus asks. He pulls the grateful man to his feet, telling him, “Your faith has made you well.”
Though his account is brief—10 sentences in four verses—Luke packs it with information. It begins with Jesus in the borderlands, well away from Jerusalem’s temple establishment. The lepers’ “unclean” status prevents them from crossing the distance society has wedged between Him and them. Unwilling to let Him pass them by, they call to Jesus and He sees them where they are. Directing them to the priests, He ignores religious laws labeling people in their situation as unfit for worship and public threats. Essentially, he tells them to cross the socio-religious chasm for themselves. As they step out by faith, they’re transformed so that the priests and people accept them.
Getting to Jesus
Luke doesn’t confirm the other nine go to the priests. Most likely they do. It’s also possible that, no longer stigmatized, they skip the temple to enjoy their inclusion. Either way, it’s not important. The thankfulness of Samaritan leper—an outsider twice over—earns Luke’s full attention. Two concluding events explain why. First, cleansing removes all boundaries between him and Jesus. Getting close to Christ to thank Him matter more than priestly approval and public acceptance. Second, thanksgiving brings his blessing full circle. Jesus raises him up, telling him not only is he cleansed. He’s completely well, inside and out.
While religious conformists gravitate to temples, Christ walks the borders. That’s where He’s found. Condemnation encourages us to believe we’re unclean, spiritually and socially unacceptable. Still, we can’t allow Jesus to pass without ministering to us. We call Him from a distance. He speaks to us where we are. He commands us to ignore fears of rejection and make the first move. Confidence in His word cleanses us of shame and scorn that mar our self-image. We see we’re like everyone else. That alone may be sufficient for 90 percent of us, who no doubt are thankful but, in the excitement of acceptance, don’t sacrifice the time to come back and tell Him. But one in 10 of us grasps the truth of what’s happened. Barriers between Christ and us don’t exist. Getting to Him matters most of all. Our gratitude is so overwhelming we throw ourselves at His feet. He lifts us up and makes us whole.
As we in the US approach Thanksgiving, I urge all of us to to reflect on how Christ’s love cleansed us from the stains of stigmatization and rejection. I pray we’ll stop what we’re doing, turn around, and fall before Him to say, “Thank You. Thank You for walking the borders. Thank You for hearing our cries. Thank You for calling us to You. Thank You for Your cleansing. Thank You for Your healing." Faith through thanksgiving allows us to transcend cleansing. It makes us whole.
(Originally posted November 23, 2008.)
Jesus cleansed 10 lepers, but the one who returned in gratitude He made completely well.
(Next: Remembering You)