Dictionary.com lists the first definition of grateful as: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 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. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ [from Luke 17]
In the case of this Samaritan leper, Jesus equates gratitude with faith. The unnamed man has already been healed, along with nine other unnamed men, but gratitude compels him alone to return to the one who cared enough to speak to the physical, emotional, and social distress caused by a horrible disease.
Why? We’re not told. What makes one person feel obliged to give thanks, while another goes on his way?
It’s not that the other healed lepers weren’t relieved, ecstatic; I’m sure they were. And Jesus doesn’t condemn them. But he does commend the one who returns to thank God.
Gratitude gives us a chance to close the circle. Otherwise we may experience the events of our lives without soul-altering and soul-healing reflection.
When we give thanks, we’re reminded that good things aren’t just a result of what we’ve done. Health, income, stability, relationships, happiness—if we have them we often take them for granted, or assume (if we even take the time to consider) that we are somehow the authors of all the good things that happen to us.
This thinking has several ramifications, all of which can be spiritually damaging. Do we believe that those who don’t have the good things we have are somehow lacking in ambition, hard work, right belief, doing what they’re supposed to do? Do we pat ourselves on the back for making our own good luck? Do we forget to give thanks?
It’s this last one Jesus addresses. Neglecting to give thanks weakens faith, by allowing us to cover up that part of our souls that remembers our dependence on God and the people around us. Leaving that circle of relatedness open at one end actually closes us off to an appreciation of much that is good.
When the Samaritan circled back to Jesus, he was recognizing that wellness—being whole—is more than just physical well-being. It’s equally about spiritual and relational well-being.
Faith makes us well.
Close the circle. Give thanks.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier