10/13/13, Faith Gives Thanks

2 Kings 5:14-17, 2 Timothy 2:8-13, Luke 17:11-19

Last week we read the beginning verses of Luke 17. Subsequent to a discussion about forgiveness,  Jesus’ disciples asked him to “increase their faith.”   Jesus responded with the example about faith the size of a mustard seed casting a huge mulberry tree into the ocean, and then a strange story conveying that we just have to do our duty no matter how unfair it seems or how tired we are.  The duty of a faithful disciple is action. JUST DO IT!

Looking at the gospel passages from now until the end of the church year, we see an ongoing pattern wherein Jesus progressively  addresses the question about practicing an increased faith.  So for the time between now and Advent, each week we will talk about an aspect of what living in faith looks like.  

To summarize lesson #1:  Only a tiny bit of faith is required; action taken on that basis increases faith. Faith just DOES the right thing in the present moment and then stands back and watches God at work. 

Today’s gospel passage tells the story of 10 lepers hanging around outside the gates to a village. They got Jesus’ attention by calling out to him from a distance.  He called back, telling them simply to go show themselves to the priests.  This implied that through their action of faith, they would be healed before they even got there.  Indeed, as they scurried away, they noticed that their skin afflictions were disappearing.  But one of them, noted as being a Samaritan, came back to Jesus with praise and thanksgiving.  Whereupon  Jesus offered him one additional blessing.  “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

In biblical times, leprosy having leprosy mean something different than today.  To say someone was a “leper” implied that he or she had one of what could be any of a number of skin afflictions. (Acne, scabies, psoriasis, exema, measles, chickenpox)  Any of these afflictions was thought to be God’s punishing judgment for some misdeed.  People steered clear of apparently cursed people for not wanting to be caught in their sinful company.  When such an affliction was healed, the rule was that one had to present oneself to the priests for release back into society. Therefore, the nine healed lepers obediently trotted off to the priests to fulfill the religious rule. 

What can it mean that 9 of the lepers ran off to the priests to verify their healing, but the one who turned back and offered gratitude was blessed with the statement, “Your faith has SAVED you?”   All ten of the lepers had relief from their affliction, but the grateful Samaritan, a person who Jews would have considered a religious heretic and a social outcast, received something more.  Jesus pronounced him “saved.”

 There must be a difference between being healed and being saved and gratitude seems to have something to do with it.   

All ten of the lepers exercised FAITH by trusting that Jesus’ words would physically heal their affliction. And so they were.  But one took that faith to the next logical step: gratitude.  The Greek text says that he prostrated himself at Jesus feet (in the original Greek “eucharisteo”) thanking him.  And Jesus in return told him to stand up and go his way.  His faith not only healed him, but SAVED him. 

That word SAVED has come to be understood by Christians as redemption to eternal life, won by Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.  But scholars point out that salvation in the biblical contexts is not about that at all.  In the Old Testament, salvation is about Israel’s liberation from Egyptian bondage, their release from Babylonian exile and people’s personal experience of rescue from perilous situations.  These Old Testament perspectives shaped New Testament uses of the words salvation and saved.  Jews understood that to be saved is to enter into a new kind of life, a life of freedom and hope.  The Jesus’ stories where people are brought back to life, healed from infirmity and called to trust rather than fear have metaphorical meanings of transformation even if they did not happen historically.  This story of the grateful leper teaches us that an expression of gratitude should go hand in hand with an act of faith.

WHY? Because Gratitude results in liberation to a new way of life: freedom and joy and renewed hope for the future.

Over the past decade, hundreds of studies have documented the social, physical,  and  psychological benefits of gratitude. The research suggests these benefits are available to most anyone who practices gratitude, even in the midst of adversity like terminal illness or chronic illness. Scientists find that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits: stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; higher levels of positive emotions; more joy, optimism, and happiness; acting with more generosity and compassion; feeling less lonely and isolated.

Who would have thought that 2000 years ago, the writers of the Jesus’ story would have known the importance of teaching lessons about the need to exercise a grateful heart?

The image I leave you with today is a picture that has hung in my meditation room for almost 20 years now.  It speaks to me more and more as my own faith deepens.  In it, I see an ever-questioning heart, a dancing heart of joy, a gratefully prostrate heart of worship. Like the Samaritan leper, Jesus bids me everyday to stand up and go my way because my faith has saved me.

There’s one other interesting thing about this story.  Why should the author of this gospel have pointed out that it was the religious heretic who received more than physical healing? The man identified as a Samaritan didn’t bind himself first to the expectations of going to the religious authorities.  Instead, he prostrated himself in “eucharisteo.”  In the giving of thanks, Jesus declared that his faith had saved him. He now possessed true freedom.

Think about it: Perhaps in this story is an invitation for us to let go of our worries about  religious rule-keeping.  Instead, let’s make “eucharist” our everyday way of life. As we come to this table of communion today, may we approach with deep gratitude, offering in faith our own lives for the sake of joyful participation in the Kin-dom of God.

By Sandi DeMaster