Count your blessings. Remember to be grateful. Realize how rich you are. Take the time, especially at Thanksgiving, to give thanks for everything you have been given.
These are the sentiments that are touted throughout the season we stand at the precipice of—Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, the New Year… the holidays. And it is absolutely right. We should count our blessings, be grateful, take stock of how rich we are, and then give thanks. It is the faithful thing to do. We know this… and so does Leper Number 10.
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus is on a road trip, moving between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. As he enters a village, ten lepers approach him and call out from a distance, raising their voices in unison, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They are desperate for healing, but as unclean people they don’t dare rush up to Jesus. They know that they are supposed to keep their distance, and live outside the community.
Jesus sees them and feels a desire to be merciful toward them, which he then is, but it comes in a rather odd manner— he gives them an unusual command: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Actually, only to us do these words of grace and mercy sound odd. You see, in the time of Jesus, a leper who was fortunate enough to be healed had to show himself to a priest because only a priest could certify that a person was truly clean and able to return to the community.
It’s upon hearing these words, and as the lepers make their way toward the priests, that something very strange and very unexpected begins to happen— something wonderful and mysterious and tingling with the healing power of God.
The lepers, these people deemed unclean and thus cast out of their community, are miraculously cleansed. No longer are they plagued by their repulsed condition. No longer are they contaminated and infected. They are made clean and whole.
And when the transformation is complete one of them, Leper Number 10, turns on his heels and races back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. He falls and prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and profusely thanks him. For all that just happened… For this miraculous transformation… only one gives thanks. One out of 10.
“Were not ten made clean?” asks Jesus, sounding miffed. “But the other nine, where are they?” Only one takes the time to acknowledge what just happened. Only one bothers to come back to Jesus and say “thank you.” Only one counts his blessings.
Now I suppose one could argue that the other nine were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. They were obedient. They followed instructions. But they didn’t even take a moment to say “thank you”?
I don’t know about you, but I think that gratitude and thanksgiving ought to move us beyond the standard, the acceptable, the ordinary. I think, and based on Jesus’ reaction to just a 10 percent return of those who he literally changed and saved their lives that Jesus feels this same way—that a gracious attitude and lifestyle makes one extraordinary, unusual, blessed, and a cut above the rest— That’s what we become when we count our blessings.
“Counting our blessings”, “remembering to be grateful”, “realizing how rich we are”, “taking the time to give thanks for everything we have been given” is the good and faithful thing to do at Thanksgiving and all throughout the holidays. But we would be wise, and healthy, to do such all the time.
New research is showing that people who count their blessings, daily, can find themselves sleeping better, exercising more and caring more about others.
The research being done on gratitude is showing that people who remind themselves of the things they are grateful for— people who count their blessings one by one, consciously, and every day— show significant improvements in mental health, and even in some aspects of physical health.
This is all according to gratitude research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where the results are showing this to be true whether you are a healthy college student or an older adult with an incurable disease. Here’s how the study was performed…
College students were asked to fill out a weekly report of five things for which they were grateful. They listed such things as “the generosity of friends”, “the chance to study and get an education”, and “Smart Phones.” Millennials—what are you gonna do?
Another group, made up of adults with incurable diseases such as ALS, were asked to write down a list of things that made them thankful—the number one answer for this group was “the love and support of family and friends”.
In contrast, groups of similar status and condition were asked to count their hassles, instead of their blessings. They listed aggravations such as “hard to find parking” and “finances depleting quickly.” Instead of focusing on how rich they were, members of these groups focused on their poverty.
Well, you don’t need me to tell you that the results were predictable. In the end, the grateful groups felt better about their lives and more optimistic about their prospects. The thankful college students exercised more, and the chronically ill adults who focused on blessings reported sleeping longer and waking up refreshed. The members of the grateful groups were also nicer to neighbors and more willing to help people with personal problems, all leading the researchers to conclude that gratitude can serve as a “moral motivator.” Being thankful is good for your physical, mental and moral health—and it doesn’t seem to matter what you are grateful for, as long as you count your blessings.
You can be appreciative of generous friends, or loving family members, or green grass, or pleasant elevator conversations. You can even thank God for Smart Phones. For it is in the act of simply counting, and seeing, and recognizing all that we do have that we find and receive the benefits that comes with being people who are grateful, thankful, and blessed.
The lesson and take away from all this is easy enough to glean from our text for today. However, there is a deeper take away that can be easily missed.
In the story of the 10 lepers, there is a huge surprise revealed when it is made know that Leper Number 10 is a Samaritan.
For us, such a designation is no big deal—heck we would read such as a good thing. But hearing this comes as a shock to Jesus’ followers because they see Samaritans as: low-life losers, second-class citizens, members of the wrong race, region and religion. The Samaritan was not a respectable member of the community at all. But he is the only one to count his blessings. And that, according to Jesus, makes all the difference. It showed Jesus that while the others had experienced the healing of their bodies, this one had found healing in his soul.
Jesus asks, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he says to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” There’s no parsing words here—Jesus slams the nine perfectly respectable lepers who went on their way without so much as a thank-you, the nine ungrateful lepers who apparently felt that they somehow deserved to be healed, the nine self-centered lepers who had so much to do that they couldn’t take a nanosecond to return to Jesus and express their gratitude.
Jesus says to Leper Number 10, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus gives him a fist-bump and a high five not so much for the faith that asked for healing, but for the faith that implored him to return to Jesus, and give thanks. That is living out the trueness of our faith, because after all, our faith is a grateful faith— not a gimme faith— but a grateful faith that saves us.
Leper Number 10 wanted some soul-healing, and it’s no doubt what most of us need today, but we’re not going to find it until we’re able to count our blessings and say thank you.
In this time of Thanksgiving, our challenge is to count our blessings — large and small, significant and silly— and to be grateful to the One who is the source of every good and gracious gift. Because here’s the thing—we don’t deserve any of it.
Whether it’s green grass or an honor roll kids or caring co-workers or healthy hearts, our attitude toward each day should be absolutely saturated with thanksgiving. Because if we can remember to be grateful, we’ll find ourselves even healthier in body, mind and spirit. We’ll feel better about our lives, more optimistic about our prospects and more helpful toward people around us. After all, Jesus proclaimed it, and modern research confirms it— a grateful faith can make us well.
So may we, in this season of Thanksgiving and beyond, be intentional about counting our blessings by taking some time to ask ourselves:
What have I forgotten to say “thank-you” for? Who have I forgotten to say thank you to? What has my response to my blessings been? Have my responses been that of an expectant, entitled “Gimme more!”? Or have my responses been that of extraordinary, unexpected blessings?
Such introspection can put us on the path toward the healing we all want and need. For no matter who we are, no matter what we have done, or not done, or left undone; no matter how our society views us— we are all children of God who have been blessed by God our Creator and Christ our Savior. And there is gratitude to be found and expressed in being blessed in such a way, so abundantly.
Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.