Thanksgiving Sunday, Year A
11 October 2020

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

 

How long did the ten lepers live together? They lived in something like a leper colony in no-mans-land, far from towns and villages. They shared the same fate and because they did, they must have understood each other, at least somewhat. Even though they were likely a diverse group of people who had left different professions, left different families, and some of them may not have had families. But they all had someone and something they had left behind, and so they shared their loss.
When you visit a cancer patient, don’t ever say “I know how you feel,” unless you actually do. When you visit someone who has lost a loved one, don’t say “I know how you feel,” unless you do. When you are with someone who has lost their job, or their marriage fell apart, don’t say “I know how you feel”, unless you really do, which means that you have been there. It is one thing to have empathy, and that is a good thing, it is another to truly understand.
So, I think that there was a real community among these ill outcasts. They understood each others’ loss and this brought them close. They couldn’t restore each others’ lives but the community they had with each other gave them some comfort simply because they understood each others’ loss.

I continue to do the grocery shopping for my in-laws. A while ago my father-in law asked me to also buy him a lotto max ticket, a good one. I asked what he’d do if he won. He grinned and said he’d buy a new car.
In our culture we do a lot of “If I won the lottery I would do such and such.” Of course, most of us don’t win the lottery but it can be a fun game to play, particularly when it is about paying off debt and doing things for others.

I wonder if the ten lepers in their colony ever did things like that, with all the time they had on their hands, especially every time they heard of a miracle worker coming their way? I have never experienced what they experienced, but I find it likely that they would have. I imagine that they may have dreamed together, “If I get better, I will do such and such …” and if they entered deeply into the dream and spun it along for some time, the ‘if’ became a ‘when’. “When I get better I will do such and such.” And I imagine that all their dreaming had to do with catching up on living because they wouldn’t have considered their current state much of a life – even though in their living with each other it may actually have been.

And so I don’t want to spend a lot of time dwelling on why nine of the ten did not come back to Jesus after they were healed. They had places to go and things to do. They got a new lease on life and they had a lot of catching up to do.
Besides, this story is not a moralistic tale about the phenomenon of ingratitude and what things are coming to.

But I do imagine surprise among the other nine when the one quickly abandoned all the plans they had been making over all this time and returned to the place of their suffering. Yes, he went back to Jesus but Jesus must have been still at the place of their pain, how else could he have found him!

The one leper who returned realized something. I don’t know whether he was able to articulate it. But he didn’t need to because his return spoke for itself. He returned to Jesus because he realized that being given this gift (of being cured) was more important than the gift itself, even as profound as the gift was. He had received something he could never have done for himself and he received it free of charge. Someone turned to him when everyone else had passed him, someone believed that he mattered, that he was important. And this someone cured him from his illness.

We don’t know what happened with the other nine. But we do know what happened to this one person, when Jesus looked into his eyes, he looked back and he saw the deep love of God. How could he not have returned! He was compelled, it was his heart that made him go. He had seen God and that’s where he wanted to be.

Faith is about coming back, about returning to Jesus. God takes the first step and with the heart of a lover hopes that we will hear and that we will answer.

In our reading Jesus does not demand the return of the lepers.
Why not? Because you cannot demand love. Just as the lepers could only appeal to his compassion, so Jesus could only hope that his love would be requited. It had to be in their heart, he could not force them.

In this way the story paints the picture of God as a divine lover, waiting for his beloved.
Like the lepers we are not here because anyone told us so, but we are here because we have seen the love of God, we have been touched by grace, ‘Where else could we be!’

It may be foolishness, and I imagine that is what the other nine thought of the Samaritan who returned, but such foolishness helps us see the things that matter, helps us see what is important.

And so thanksgiving is not just about saying thanks, but it is about our relationship with the living God, who made us part of the church and entrusted us with the mission to be carriers of God’s salvation wherever we go.

Amen.