The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Text: Luke 17:11-19
“Your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19
In this compelling story from Luke, ten people afflicted with leprosy - a contagious disease that affects the skin - approach Jesus and call to him from afar (knowing the strict rules about avoiding contact with the unclean). Without even a wave of a magic wand, Jesus says the word and they are cleansed of the disease as they walk . . . skip . . . run! to show themselves to the priest and be declared clean and acceptable once again.
But one man turns. It's not the kind of metanoia that indicates a 180-degree turn away from sin. This is just a pivoting pause. But it makes all the difference for what Jesus sees about the state of this man's soul. Because this pivoting pause turns on a fulcrum of gratitude. He turns back around and drops to his knees in thankfulness. Jesus then declares that his faith has made him well.
There are three different words used in this passage to indicate wellness. In verse 14 when the ones with leprosy realize their affliction is gone, the word is katharizo. You can see the basis for the word catharsis, meaning purged or purified. In verse 15, the Samaritan realizes he has been cured, and the word is iaomai, which means healed. But in verse 19, Jesus says that the man's faith has made him whole. The word is sozo, from where we get the word soteriology, meaning salvation. In other words, this man's faith - which is based on his thankfulness (v. 16) has indicated a certain quality within his inner being. And this quality indicates a wholeness that is more than skin deep.
What is it about gratitude that is so healing? Evidence is growing about the positive ways in which gratitude affects your state of mind. Cultivating thankfulness increases your level of happiness and satisfaction in life, your ability to reach your goals, and the quality of your relationships. But studies are also showing that high levels of gratitude also correlate to increased health on both the physical and psychological level.
Apparently what happened with this man - a Samaritan, who was not only afflicted by leprosy but also looked down upon because of his status as a foreigner - was that his faith on the inside, pivoting on that fulcrum of gratitude, mirrored the healing that Jesus had caused to happen on the outside.
But was it this one miraculous act of healing that caused him to suddenly be oriented toward gratitude so much so that it affected his faith? That's certainly possible, but not likely, given that the other nine had the same experience and had no pivoting pause. It's more likely that this man had cultivated his gratitude for many years, so that even in the midst of his affliction he found reason to be thankful. Thus when this miracle of physical healing occurred, his spirit was already oriented in such a way that gratitude naturally followed.
As Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:18, "Give thanks in all circumstances." Notice he didn't say give thanks for all circumstances. Because certainly there are things that happen to us that we are understandably not happy about. Nor should we should feel forced to a fake an air of humble thankfulness for our affliction. Rather, giving thanks in all circumstances means that no matter what happens, we give thanks that God is still with us, and is still working in and through us and others to bring about healing and wholeness. Giving thanks is about trusting that God is still present, still cares, and is still active, even if we can't right away see the way in which that action is manifesting itself. That kind of trust is what we call faith.
Who is the most grateful person you know? Who for you exemplifies the kind of faith that pivots on a fulcrum of gratitude so that no matter what happens, they are able to trust the goodness of God and take appropriate action that aligns to this goodness and trust? Who is that person who inspires gratitude in you? Have you shared with them how much they inspire you? Have you taken steps to follow what they have modeled for you?
I was in a pastor's Bible study about this text and one of my colleagues shared with me a question that had been once been posed to him:
What would you have this morning if all you had was what you gave thanks for yesterday?
May this question give you a pivoting pause and help you to find your own fulcrum of gratitude.