There was a man who was struck down in his early thirties. He was diagnosed with brain cancer. He had a wife and young children and a promising career. Suddenly all of that was swept away from him. He could barely talk or walk. He was in constant agony. His friends and his family, except for his wife and mother, avoided him. They lived in a major centre where there were lots of medical specialists, but the doctors just shook their heads. It was too bad. He was a nice man and deserved a longer life. But there was nothing they could do.
At last he went to a very famous doctor who offered to operate on him, even though everyone else said the tumour was inoperable. The doctor warned the patient and his wife that he could very well die during the operation, though he (the doctor) was pretty sure that the patient would survive and return to health. They decided that they should take the risk. After nine hours of surgery, the doctor came into the waiting room, grinned at the manís wife and said, "I got it!" The man recovered and went on to a happy and successful life.
Twenty years later the surgeon died. "We should go to the wake," the patientís wife said. "Iíd like to," her husband replied. "But itís on the weekend and I have an important golf tournament to be part of." "He must have treated thousands of patients over the years and his family wouldnít know us anyway, besides he was a Muslim and Iíd be uncomfortable with their customs."
The rules in Hebrew law about "leprosy" (which covered a wide variety of contagious diseases and not merely what we know today as "Hansenís Disease"), those rules were intended to be a crude public health measure. It was necessary to protect the whole village from such infection, so that those whose faces were covered with skin lesions were exiled until the infection had passed. In effect they were in quarantine. The local priest was the public health official who pronounced the quarantine over. Not all such diseases were permanent like what we know as leprosy today. Since it was assumed that the lepers became afflicted because of their sins, thus their exile was all the more harsh and guilt ridden.
Of course these people who had been isolated from others for months, the "cured lepers" rushed home to their families and friends. We could say they were not thankful, but perhaps because of their joy they just didnít think of saying thanks. Jesus did not need their gratitude, though surely he would have liked it.
The actual response was deeper for the one than we might think, "...one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesusí feet, giving him thanks." This man was not a Jew, for he was a Samaritan-a person of mixed blood, an outsider and he rushed back not so much thanking Jesus for this tremendous gesture, but praising God for what had happened. He connected Jesusí action with Godís action.
We may be quick to cast judgement upon the other nine lepers. How could they not express gratitude toward Jesus. Then this week I read about a minister who realized he was one of the nine.
About 12 years ago he had a lung transplant. Iím not sure what brought him to that state. At the time of the operation he didnít feel all that grateful. That gift of life-the healing came with a price tag. He experienced four months of literal blood, sweat, and tears. After the operation, there followed four difficult months of fighting for his life. He wondered then whether it was all going to be worth it. During this time, he experienced so much doubt and despair, that the words of thanks simply would not, could not come.
The months passed and he began to have realistic hope that he would survive. His health returned and so did an attitude of gratitude. But then, how does one say thank you for anotherís life, for one beautiful young woman who had died of a brain aneurysm, so that he could have lungs. He thought, "How does one say thank you for life? Perhaps he could send a note of thanks to the donorís family through the organ donor bank or he could write about it in the lung association magazine. The gift is too great-words would be, too small, too inadequate...
Time passed. Then the silence became embarrassing. He had waited too long. What will her parents think? Maybe they would rather not open up old wounds.
Isnít this how it happens, we talk ourselves in to these logical, totally explainable conclusions-thatís how we become one of the nine lepers who were healed, but who never returned to say thank you.
When John was 2, I took him to the hospital one night with an elevated temperature. He was very anxious and upset and we could not console him. The doctors checked for the obvious signs of an ear infection. That wasnít the cause. They took some blood to test. That was inconclusive, though the white cell count was elevated. A paediatrician was called in. He took a sample of spinal fluid. It was clear, that was good, but John had a brief seizure. The paediatrician began to go through all the various scenarios. In time the word leukemia was raised as a possibility.
He was moved upstairs to the childrenís ward and what made me the most alarmed and most thankful was that a nurse was assigned to be by his bed continually through the rest of the night-that was the strongest signal to me that his condition was serious. He was given a blood transfusion and I slept fitfully on a cot near his bed. There was prayer and even bargaining with God.
That happened to be thanksgiving weekend-25 years ago. I took him to hospital on Thursday night. By Saturday he was bouncing around in that bed with the high sides. He had experienced some virus which with medication and the transfusion he was able to battle. It was truly a joyous Thanksgiving for us. We certainly thanked God and the doctors and the nurses who provided care. We didnít send any thank you letter to the Red Cross of the day, though I think about the experience every time Iíve donated the 75 pints of blood I have in the last 25 years.
Once he was through the worst of the healing, the minister who had received the donated lungs asked himself, whatís the big deal? Iím grateful. Isnít that enough? Why this need to say it?
Yet as he asked the question of himself he began to understand. Unexpressed gratitude, like unexpressed love, eventually withers and dies. If you donít express gratitude, eventually you will lose the ability to be truly grateful -- for anything.
Love and gratitude are complimentary. Theyíre connected. Theyíre part of each other. When I say thank you, I recognize not only the gift, but the giver as well. Any time I truly recognize another human being and the gifts they offer, I perform an act of love and a small part of me is healed. Love and gratitude. Both together. Both necessary for life...
The protestant reformer Martin Luther described faithful worship as this tenth leper moment. Worship isnít obligation; it is the return of a thankful heart to the source of its healing. It is awaking to new possibilities of a healed life lived close to Christ. It is delighting in what we have seen, the healing that, in spite of everything, has given us back our lives. Worship can be that thanksgiving overflowing.
It is interesting to note that the 10 lepers had been a community bound by their leprosy. That bond overcame the animosity between Samaritan and Jew. Once they were healed, what happened to their connections? Would the Samaritan still be accepted by the other nine because of the experience they had all shared? When people trust one another so much more can be accomplished. When there is no trust little progress can be made and a whole lot of destruction is more likely.
What will it take to make us whole, to cleanse us? Giving thanks to God and one another is a great start. Developing trust in our church family is another component. Expanding our circle and working on behalf of others is bound to show us the way to healing. Being grateful and saying thank you are at the heart of Godís hope for humanity.
Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have claimed gratitude as a quality integral to health and well-being. Now, through a recent movement called positive psychology, mental health professionals are taking a close look at how virtues such as gratitude can benefit our health. Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress. Grateful people are more hopeful, and there are links between gratitude and the immune system. So your mother was right when she made you call your grandmother and thank her for the birthday card.
Sometimes we need to step out of line, out of pace from the masses, one out of ten and declare our stand, our thanks and our trust in Godís way. It is then that weíll find wholeness and cleansing!