Perhaps the story most seasonally sermonized, if not spiritually sanitized, at Thanksgiving is the healing of the ten lepers. All got well––well––sort of well, but only one returned to give thanks. That guy ended up getter “weller” than the ungrateful sort of ones.
I propose that an attitude of gratitude might well have something to do with getting well.
After they noticed their incurable sores and pocked skin cured, the nine continued on their merry way. After all, Jesus had instructed them to go show themselves to the priests to receive their clean certificate of health, so they could reintegrate as normal citizens in society. So why knock them for doing what he told them to do?
What did they lack that the other possessed?
An instinctual gratitude
The grateful guy, as both a leper and a “foreigner,” lived with twice the marginalization. Yet, when healed, he displayed a different spirit than the others, an “instinct” of gratitude. Granted, thanksgiving is an action that we Christians take in light of a good God and in spite of difficult circumstances. Sometimes we have to will ourselves into worship when we don’t feel like it. Giving thanks as matter of choice when we don’t particularly feel thankful can be a spiritually admirable act on our part. The Psalmists and prophets and apostles all practiced thanksgiving when their bodies and minds were anything but readily cooperative. But that’s not really my point…
The last leper possessed something more than disciplined will to worship; he seems to have had a sort of instinctual attitude of gratitude. It wasn’t duty that drove him back Jesus to thank him for his healing. His praise was as intuitive as the rocks that Jesus said would praise him if people refused.
The former leper would get to the priests in due time, but he was compelled to return first to the one who healed him. He embodied the proverbial “attitude of gratitude,” from which Jesus drew a straight line to the man’s “faith”––“your faith has made you well.” Some might say that his faith drove him to do what he didn’t feel like doing, but I suspect that it inspired his spirit of thanksgiving.
I’ve heard it preached, “Let’s be like the tenth leper and give God thanks even when we don’t feel like it!” Of course there’s truth in that statement. I’ve said it myself and to myself! But there’s something else at play in an instinctually grateful praiser’s faith.
A thankful heart of faith
The faith that made him well was something other than believing the right things about the right God and regurgitating them in the right cadence and tone. His faith was more profound than concurring with certain propositional facts found in the Bible. While that sort of “believing” plays a role in good “faith,” it’s not necessarily the leading role. The Samaritan’s faith was the kind that welled up from his interior. The other nine, though they all experienced the same healing, didn’t have an internal faith. They obviously “believed” that Jesus was their healer. I’m sure they were able to intellectually connect the dots from their healing back to Jesus, but their hearts made no such connection with the Healer himself. Hence, rather than return with thankful hearts, they kept on walking.
Speaking of hearts, what’s the heart of the matter”?
There’s well and then there’s “well”
This story employs three similar, albeit slightly nuanced terms to describe what Jesus did for the tenth leper: cleansed, healed, and well. The nine unthankfuls were “cleansed and healed,” but “well” they were not. Only one of the ten went away “well.” The nine concluded their journey with a bill of health from the priest, but it didn’t seem to occur to them to return thanks to Jesus. They had better skin but their souls were untouched. The tenth man was transformed in both in skin and soul.
“Your faith has made you well…”
The term for “well” is related to the one used throughout the New Testament for “saved” (sozo). Some Bible versions translate it “whole.” I like “whole.” I like what it implies, especially in contrast to other lesser miracles like cleansed and healed. Wholeness incorporates being cleansed and healed, but it is a country mile beyond those.
I think a lot of so-called “believers” stop considerably short of “wholeness.” While their brand of “faith” may be real, even passable for getting into heaven when they die, it doesn’t bring much heaven into them here and now. It may have cleansed them from their sin but it hasn’t made them whole.
Theirs is a sort of shallow faith. It involves their minds and even emotions, but it hasn’t sunk deeper into their souls. The evidence of this is that their brand of faith doesn’t engender an instinctual gratitude. They’re content with skin-deep health and when they do express their thanks they have to will themselves into it. They have to be prompted, if not cajoled into worshipping their God. If those measures are ineffective, they have to be enticed with a conducive atmosphere of soft lights and good music to get them in the mood. Jesus cleansed and healed them but their lack of instinctual gratitude reveals a paltry faith and a deficiency of true wellness.
Ominous are the proportions presented in this story. Only one in ten had more than a skin-deep faith. Only one possessed a thankful instinct. He didn’t have to force himself to worship; his praises came from somewhere deep inside and exuded from his pores. Only one got “well”! Is that the best we can expect of the Church––one in ten of us with the kind of faith that erupts into impulsive praise? I hope not.
“If you were to fall into the sea, and were that sea infinite, you would fall from one depth to another for all eternity. … The Christian who is in that place of continuous abiding is not even aware of his descent, and yet he is sinking with inconceivable swiftness to the most inward depths of God.” Madame Guyon (1685)