Via Negativa: Just Say, “No” — Say No to Gratitude

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 17:11-19), we find our guy racking up some frequent walking miles traveling in the region between Samaria and Galilee. On this particular journey, he meets ten men who were stricken with leprosy. They knew their place in society – they were unclean and so they had to stay away from people lest they spread their awful disease, so they called out to Jesus from a distance.

Jesus calls back to them, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” Which seems like strange advice to our ears, but back in Jesus’ day it was the priest, not a doctor, who declared a person to be healed, or clean enough, to re-enter society. All ten immediately turned toward the synagogue, no questions asked. Nobody complained that Jesus didn’t come over to them and lay hands on them to perform some sort of overt miracle that the crowds could ooh and ahh over. Instead, they obeyed and set off to see the priest.

As they walked, they began to realize that their sores were disappearing and as they got even closer to the synagogue, their bodies had been restored to health.

One of them was so overwhelmed by his good fortune that he couldn’t help himself. The priest could wait. He turned back and ran to Jesus praising him and thanking him in a loud voice. Jesus marvels at this act of gratitude, wondering where the other nine ingrates had gone. We’ve got to give Jesus credit for a little restraint here for not immediately striking the other nine with an even worse case of leprosy than they started with.

But, the fact that he doesn’t, and the fact that he is awed by this one man’s act of gratitude underscores a more important lesson in this story. What both Jesus and this healed leper are teaching us is that it is not gratitude that is the most important quality we need to display. Instead, the most important lesson from this story is one of humility.

Both the leper, and Jesus, showed themselves to be men of great humility. The leper, because he understood that he had been given an amazing, undeserved gift that must be repaid somehow, even if all he had to give was a “thank you.” Jesus, because he understood that humility is gracious even in the face of ingratitude.

I imagine those other nine former lepers were not completely ungrateful. I imagine they were very pleased that they were healed and they could now return to their place in society. But, by returning to say thank you, that tenth leper shows us that the true virtue in this story is humility – that ability to forget ourselves and see our ultimate connection to Jesus, not as a savior, but as a fellow human being.

Jesus, this leper, and Jason Mraz all know this one thing – nothing happens on its own. Cranes need cranes, hens need eggs, words need thoughts, good needs pain, bad needs satisfaction.  What humility teaches us is that it’s not all about us. The world does indeed comes full circle, but it does not circle just around us.

In his gratitude, the leper recognized that without Jesus he would not have been healed, but he also realizes that without his leprosy he never would have even met this deeply divine human.  That is humility.

He has experienced the blessing in his tragedy, and in his humility, all he can do is come back – put off his own re-entrance into respectable society – and simply say thank you for the gift he has received.

In his very public gratitude toward Jesus he makes the point that my Houston pastor friend made in another post about the ongoing Facebook gratitude extravaganza.

“Giving thanks is a beautiful and good spiritual practice,” she wrote. “Those who do it best often do it in private. When we do it publicly, we need to be very careful to do it in a way that builds us all up, not in a way that subtly insults others by boasting about what we have or what we have done. True gratitude teaches us humility as well as joy.”

I can imagine anyone who saw that leper thank Jesus that day didn’t do it with a dry eye. That public act of gratitude built them all up, and showed them not just Jesus’ ability to heal, but how true humility has the power to heal us all.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Negativa: Just Say No – Say No to Prayer

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

The thing I find myself praying for the most is to be less afraid. Less afraid for the future. Less afraid about what’s coming down the road, whether it’s illness, financial ruin or the zombie apocalypse.  It’s easy to live in fear in this world. Just watch the television for five minutes and you’ll have a million reasons or more to be scared about the future.

This seems to be a universal human problem – fearing what the future may hold for us. Our relative affluence here in the U.S. hasn’t inoculated us from this kind of perceived terror. In our Jesus story (Matthew 6:25-34), we find it was a very real fear for people of his time as well. They had a lot to fear – drought, invasion by enemies, illness, persecution, the tax collector.  They had a system of sacrifice and prayer to ward off these tragedies. They probably prayed constantly to be delivered from all of these evils, even as they were consumed with fear that each would happen.

Then, this long-haired, hippie dude shows up and says, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”

I’m sure some of those who heard Jesus rejected his words, seeing him as a Palestinian Pollyanna singing, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Apparently, this traveling preacher dude hasn’t lived as a farmer facing a bad crop or a parent watching helplessly as a child dies.

Still others would have heard his words and been intrigued. “How,” they might ask, “can we possibly live a life without worry?”

I imagine Jesus crooning a little tune to answer that question: “Don’t say a prayer for me now, save it for the morning after.” Don’t worry about tomorrow, the song tells us, let us enjoy the moment.

Let us enjoy this moment that our hearts and bodies are entwined in love. Let us be here now, moving in unison, whispering our names. It’s like a little prayer.

We are the lilies, our lives are a prayer, a testament to God’s in-dwelling presence. “We are the flute: our music is all Yours.”

“You want to really pray?” Jesus asks. “Do not toil or spin. Don’t try to deck yourself out like Solomon. There’s no need for a grand show. Instead, sway in the wind, feel the air on your skin, feel the Holy thrill of this present moment.”

Jesus told his followers then what he tells us now – there is no need to worry in this moment. This moment is full of all the prayer we’ll ever need if we’ll slow down, quiet the worrying voices in our heads, and boldly step into the mystery of breathing deeply – and being here right now.

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Via Negativa: Just Say No: Say No to the Future

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Jesus understood the importance of being present. Every moment of his life was dedicated to being present with people in their pain, their suffering and their joy. He often berated his disciples for missing the point — for not being present with people. Instead they would whine about how much time Jesus spent with the people or wish to send people away when they became annoying.

Jesus expressed the importance of being present by using parables. In our Jesus story today (Matthew 13:1-9), he tells a story we now call the parable of the sower. In the story, seeds are sown — some land on rocky ground, others among thorns and still others on good soil.

Those sown on rocky ground hear the word but fall away at the first sign of persecution and trouble because they have not roots.  Seeds that fall among thorns yield nothing because they get caught up in the cares of the world and forget the word. The seeds that fall on good soil will bear fruit — because they hear the word and understand.

The metaphor is unmistakable. Those who live in the future live on rocky ground — they have no roots. They are always thinking about “one day” when they will be happy, “one day” when they will have abundance, “one day” when they will have the perfect partner. Still others find themselves among the thorns of the past. They cannot see themselves clear of the cares of their inner world where their “remember whens” overwhelm both their future and their present. But, those who fall on good soil realize that the “word” is the present moment. The “word” gives them life — it speaks to their innermost being, sprouting strong roots and bearing good fruit.

What we must realize is that we are all planted in the good soil. We only need to encounter the power of the present moment to begin growing our strong roots and bearing the good fruit of a life that is vital, alive and awake! Those who find themselves in “bad” soil are not predestined to a terrible fate. All they must do is realize that they too can claim the good soil of the present moment and flourish.

This is not the only place Jesus calls us to say no to the future and dwell only in the present. This is his consistent message. He warns us not to dwell on the past when he says in Luke 9:62: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Alternately, we are warned us to say no to the future when he said in Matthew 5:34 to not “be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

Few people in Jesus’ day — or even today — fully understand Jesus’ admonishment to be present at all times. It’s really no wonder why we resist this message. Living in the moment is hard, scary work. We fear being present because it demands from us that we see, hear and understand the world going on around us at all times. It requires us to stop dredging up our past or obsessing about our future.

Is it any wonder that people didn’t flock to Jesus’ message? Being present is a rigorous demand.

Breathe deeply.

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