Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
Ten men. Lepers. Standing at the edge of a hot and dusty desert highway. Dust and rags their only covering. Begging for food, hoping for mercy. Most pass by, carried on by disgust, fear, indifference. When Jesus appears on the road. The glisten of hope in a desert where hope had long ago dried up. And Jesus stops. He turns and faces them, looks into their weary eyes. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus speaks to them. And in silence they turn and begin to walk. Along the way, one catches a glimpse of his own hand. The jolt of astonishment which flows through his body stops him in his tracks. They had been made clean. Ten men. Lepers no more.
One man on a hot dusty desert highway, caught up in being healed, overwhelmed with gratitude, filled with awe. This one man can see nothing else, he can do nothing else but to turn. To turn around and run to Jesus. Throwing himself to the ground before his feet, praising God. Ten are healed. One returns to praise God. One is made whole.
This reading, Luke 17.11-17, is the text assigned to be read at Thanksgiving every year. And that is because it has to do with gratitude. Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer: the tenth leper turning back. Gratitude is the result, indeed the only proper response, to God’s saving love poured out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But gratitude can be hard for us. It is hard for me. There is so much to worry about. So much to keep our hearts and minds captive. This is a broken world. But we have a God who sees the brokenness and who takes this broken mess into himself to heal and redeem it. It is to this God that we give thanks.
And in giving thanks we are drawn out of ourselves into something larger, bigger, and grander than we could imagine and are joined to the font of blessing itself. Gratitude frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and emboldens us to do more and dare more than we ever imagined. Even to return to a Jewish rabbi to pay homage when you are a Samaritan because you’ve realized that you are more than a Samaritan, or a leper, or even a healed leper; you are a child of God, whole and accepted and beautiful just as you are.
And so we come to church, to St. Peter Lutheran, to practice gratitude. I invite us this month to practice gratitude together. Find the Tree of Thanksgiving and Remembrance in the fellowship hall, grab a paper acorn and a pen, write down things and people and places for which you are grateful, and affix it to our tree. Because even in the midst of this broken world, God is at work and there is much to be grateful for. All thanks and praise to God!
With gratitude for you,