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.