One of the most compelling of all the gospel stories, is the story of Jesus and the Ten Lepers.
It is found in Luke 17:11-17. The story itself is actually quite simple. Jesus and his disciples were making their fateful journey to Jerusalem, and as they entered a village along the way, they were approached by ten lepers, who sought to be healed.
Now it is important to understand that the disease of leprosy, today called Hansen’s Disease, was the scourge of the Ancient World. It was pretty much the worst thing that you could get. In the first place, it was incurable, aggressive, and progressive. That is, it just got worse and worse, as one’s body became increasingly disfigured and deformed. Moreover, in Israel leprosy made you ritually “unclean,” so that once you had it, you became an outcast, a social pariah, completely excluded from the community life of both friends and even family. Once you contracted it, you could never go home again. It was a dreadful fate.
And so when the Ten asked Jesus to heal them, they were asking no small thing. They were asking Jesus to give them back their lives. And Jesus did. He healed them, all ten of them. But curiously, only one returned to say “Thank you.” Only one of the ten expressed gratitude to Jesus for this most miraculous of gifts, leading Jesus to ask what I believe to be one of the most haunting questions in the whole Bible, “But where are the nine?”
It has been said that gratitude is the least practiced of the virtues, that ingratitude is perhaps the most common of human failings. Indeed, it was none other than Shakespeare himself who wrote, “Blow, blow thou winter cold; thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.” I wrote a moment ago that it was curious that only one of the lepers returned to give thanks…though maybe not so curious. In the Western World at least, we have the best of everything, and in abundance. And yet, it is my observation that gratitude, genuine gratitude is in short supply. We’ve got everything, we ought to be blissfully happy. We ought to be dancing through life with joyful hearts!
But the thing is, gratitude, true gratitude, does not come naturally for most of us, rather it is a thing that we must learn, a thing that we must cultivate. Oh we say “Thank you,” if someone buys us lunch, or if someone gives us a gift, but that’s not really gratitude, that’s just being polite!
Real gratitude means living your life gratefully and thankfully.
Real gratitude means making your whole life an expression of thanksgiving to God for all that you have and all that you are. For the air that you breathe, the water that you drink, the food that you eat. For the beauty of creation, for family and friends. For good times that make us happy, and for bad times that make us strong. (Indeed, St. Paul tells us that we are to give thinks in all things!) But most especially, for the love of God that is continually poured down upon us like a never failing stream.
Here’s the bottom line: Gratitude is indeed an attitude. It is a decision that we make or not, every single day. A decision that will pretty much determine everything else in our lives, one way of another. Jesus said, “Where are the nine?” The truth is that by and large, we are the nine.
When I was a kid, my Mama used to make us write thank you notes. And I must tell you that I didn’t enjoy doing it at all, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. It taught me that gratitude is not so much a thing that you feel, as it is a thing that you do, and a thing that you are. Gratitude is a choice. It is a decision. And here’s the kicker: The way that you come to feel grateful, is to be grateful.
Submitted by the Very Rev’d. James E. Flowers, Jr., Rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Bossier City. St. George’s is an Episcopal Church committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are a family church and place a high priority on Christian growth and fellowship. At the same time we are equally committed to our Lord’s admonition to care for the “least of these”. We would love for you to join us! Please call us at 318-746-2571 for any assistance from our office staff.