Weekly Bible Devotional
“Grateful: The Struggle”
October 24, 2021
Scripture for Sunday: Luke 17:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Notes on the Text:
The Gospel of Luke is focused on highlighting Jesus’ ministry with the outcasts and the outsiders. Therefore, there are several stories that only appear in this Gospel which focus on Jesus’ inclusion of the Samaritans. This week’s story is one of them.
In this story, we often malign the 9 lepers who were healed because they didn’t go back to Jesus to thank him. This is because we think of a transactional kind of gratitude, quid pro quo. But if we pay attention to the details of the story, we hear about a deeper kind of gratitude. The one man who came back to give thanks was a foreigner, a Samaritan. This is the key here because Jews and Samaritans did not like each other.
The Samaritans were considered resident aliens in the land and represented to the Jews the accommodation and compromise of the Jews who married foreigners and followed the religions of other nations. The origin of the Samaritans goes back to 740 BCE when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians deported most of the leading families and skilled workers out of the country and sent them into exile in various places throughout their empire. At the same time, the Assyrians imported into Israel other conquered nations within their empire. The result was that the different people intermarried with the Jews who were left behind. These became the Samaritans. They were Jews who married foreigners and who incorporated into their religion some of the foreign religions of the people they married. That is why there were major frictions between the so-called pure Jews and the ethnically mixed Samaritans. That is why according to Luke 9 the Samaritans were hostile to Jesus who was a pure Jew on his way to a religious festival in Jerusalem and they refused him hospitality. This was a major offense in that time and culture. James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, were so upset with the rejection of the Samaritans that they asked Jesus if it was okay to command fire to come down from heaven and consume those Samaritans. Jesus had every logical reason to despise the Samaritans and to consider them as a bad example of faith.
And yet, in this story, we see Jesus lifting up the Samaritan as an example of faith and gratitude. The other 9 went and did what Jesus had told them. They went to the priests to get cleared from their isolation. The priests were the local health department for getting people with skin diseases out of quarantine. They kept track of the religious purity laws and rituals. So the other 9 did nothing wrong. They followed what Jesus commanded them. They waited for the religious authorities to give them the clearance. But this one man could not wait. He was the one who would have been the least likely to feel such gratitude to a Jew, but he was the one who felt it deeply in his heart and could not contain himself. Gratitude came from deep within him because he became aware of the deep grace he received. The other nine were putting that excitement on hold until they got things in order first. Their gratitude might have been restrained because of the social and religious expectations they had to deal with.
It is ironic for me to be teaching and preaching about gratitude at a very difficult time in my life as I deal with several family members being seriously ill. Last week when I was flying to LA, I took Diana Butler Bass’s book Grateful with me to read in preparation for the sermon series and that is when the irony really hit me. It is easy to praise God in times of success and healing, but one has to dig deeper when life is challenging. I am always grateful for biblical stories that give us wisdom about life beyond our limited perspectives.
We can learn from the example of the Samaritan leper about how gratitude works in our lives. Gratitude is about our awareness of the gift of life and our connection to the source of life. It is not about getting things or having things go our way. Diana Butler Bass puts it this way in her book Grateful, “Gratitude is the deep ability to embrace the gift of who we are, that we are, that in the multibillion-year history of the universe each one of us has been born, can love, grows in awareness, and has a story. Life is the gift. When that mystery fills our hearts, it overwhelms us and a deep river of emotions flows forth -feelings we barely knew we were capable of holding.”
Life is the gift, and the invitation of this sermon series is to embrace that! The circumstances of our lives will ebb and flow, but our connection to the source of life will never change. The challenge is living aware of that gift of connection. That is when gratitude becomes a lifegiving force instead of an obligation. The challenge is not finding people in your life who remind you to be grateful for what you have (or to write thank you notes for things or services you get), but people who help you to connect to the giftedness of life. That is what Jesus offered the Samaritan leper, and that is what we offer to each other, and what God restores us to in all the ups and downs of life.
Oh Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to the world,
I come to you as one of your many children.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
May I walk in beauty.
Make my eyes behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things that you have made,
And my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may know the things
That you have taught your children–
The lessons that you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Make me strong, not to be superior to my brothers, but to be
able to fight my greatest enemy: myself.
Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes, so that
When life fades as the faded sunset
My spirit will come to you without shame.
~ John Yellow Lark
Here is a piece from Diana Butler Bass about this week’s theme:
Quote from Grateful: “We know that gratitude is good and we want to be grateful, or feel gratitude, or be seen as thankful people. We might experience gratitude in a given moment. But inwardly, we know how difficult it is to practice and sustain thanksgiving–to live a truly grateful life.”
Awareness: I often feel the tension between knowing gratitude is good and finding myself unable to feel deeply thankful or practice gratefulness on a regular basis. I long to be the sort of person who lives appreciatively, but I often fall short of that desire. Do you relate to this struggle? Or does gratitude come easily to you?
Practice: Pay attention today to these two things:
- What made you feel grateful?
- Did you say “thank-you” to someone?
Jot your responses in a small notebook or on your cell phone. In the evening, review and reflect on how paying attention to gratitude made a difference to your day.
Prayer: Open my eyes, God, that I may become alert to gratitude throughout the day. Help me bridge the gap between knowing about gratitude and living in thankfulness. Free me from guilt about the gap, replacing it with the joy of discovery and an eagerness for change.