Have you noticed lately that everywhere you look someone is righteously indignant about something? Maybe not just one thing. I mean, as long as you are complaining, you can probably find lots of things to complain about – it seems for many there is no end to the list. It seems that today there is a lot of grievance around, and it is not challenging to find a “victim” of something, almost within arms reach (don’t violate their social distance!).
As we think back about 2020, it could have easily been labeled “The year of the complaint”. It seemed to me that everywhere I turned, someone was very upset about something. Often during last year, it was easy to find a group assembling, very upset about the stand that the other group that is also assembling is there to stand up and defend! “Masks!”, they yell and scream through their thin paper barrier to the micro-aggression that is Covid 19. “No masks!”, others chant, breathing expelled air in willful dissent, angry that they may be forced to wear something that they likely want their medical care team to faithfully use before any surgery they might need.
Whatever your “beef” today, you can quickly assemble online and find others that agree with your position. You can also easily find someone or even an entire group that vehemently disagrees with you and speaks of you in less than positive terms because of your unbelievable lack of awareness and willful ignorance. I don’t know about you, but it seems that there is some active force seeking to keep us at odds with each other, and whoever “they” are seem to be winning! It is easy to become conspiratorial today, and as you read this you are likely searching to find the “side” that I am here to defend or attack. “They” have made us so overly sensitive that we don’t very honestly read, listen or consider what anyone says anymore. We just want to know, “Do you agree with me on this issue?” Obviously your current issue is the most important one… ever. But, not to worry. Next week will provide a new one with equal upset and concern attached.
So what is the solution for fixing this enormous problem? How are we, God’s people, going to do something to change the current attitudes and behaviors contributing to the daily “war of words” that seem to be happening all around us? Well, unsurprisingly, Jesus speaks into the echo chamber with a story that should cause all of us to consider our own attitudes about life.
In chapter 17 of his gospel, Luke shares with us a story of a group of ten men with a real grievance – leprosy. Leprosy is so debilitating, not just because it destroys your nerves and causes your flesh to die, literally rot, but because it immediately isolates those who have it. Have you had to quarantine at some times during the last year? Well, leprosy meant that you had to quarantine for the rest of your life. There was no cure. There was no hope for a return back to regular life, society, and even your family. It was the ultimate isolation, as those suffering with leprosy were hurried off to live in a small community, sequestered from normal life and eliminated from all that they did before. Your job goes away, your family stays away, and your contribution to life and society instantly vanish. These ten men were truly hurting, seeking for a reason to live.
So, these lepers reach out to Jesus. These men, knowing the reaction that people have towards them, stand at a distance and call out to the Lord. They seem to know Jesus, and they esteem him highly. They call out “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” And Jesus, in love for these people, does that very thing. Jesus heals these men of their leprosy. It’s interesting how he does this, for he just tells them to go and tell the priest, and then as they go, they are cleansed. So, based on the way that he heals them, they apparently aren’t going to realize that they are given what they asked for until they do what he has directed them to do. This means that they wouldn’t recognize how thankful they are until they have left his presence. To show proper thankfulness, they are going to have to come back and find Jesus. They are going to have to return to him after completing what they have been instructed to do.
So, stop and consider this for a moment. Imagine you are one of the lepers, suffering from this dread disease, from this death sentence that keeps you isolated until you die. You beg the Savior to fix your situation, to give you some relief, and he gives you a simple instruction. Upon completing his request, you can see that your wounds are healed, your skin is restored, and your life has been given back to you! You want to go back and see your family! You want to go back to work, and spend time in the marketplace, to travel and see friends again! But, what is the first thing that you should do???
Of the ten lepers here in this passage, only one returns to thank Jesus for this kindness shown to him. Only one takes the time and energy to come back and appreciate him for giving his life back to him. Jesus response shows what he was really hoping for… he says, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Jesus was thinking that gratitude in this case was really the least they could return. He doesn’t expect repayment, this was something too valuable to really purchase. But, he does wish they would come back and thank him. He also makes a little note to his own people… “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” This should not be seen as a slight to this foreigner. He is not trying to disparage this Samaritan man. Rather, he is pointing out that his own people, the Jewish people, should be the first people in the world to appreciate and praise God! Especially in a moment when he has spared them physically from this death sentence. Yet he notes that the only one who returned was the one person that most Jews would think is unfit for their culture, not worthy to worship God with them. They considered the Samaritans “half-breeds” and unfit to even step foot in the temple to worship God. Yet, none of these Jews returned to praise God as this “heathen” had done.
The point here is, if we as God’s people, Christians, the church, are to change the world that we live in, maybe there is a clear message that we need to hear. Maybe instead of finding things to gripe about, or looking for something in our society that seems worthy of complaint, maybe we should just be thankful. Maybe we should just be so grateful for all that God has done for us, so positive and praising about our God, that others start to see something different in us.
When we “pile on”, complaining and whining about things that are not going “as they should”, we really start to fit in a little too well in this world in which we live. There is always something “wrong”. There are always things that need to change. There is always injustice and unfairness. I don’t like these things, and I seek not to do wrong toward others in this world that I live in. But, giving glory to myself by becoming a victim and shining the light on me is not the way to give glory to God. Attaching myself to “grievance culture” and looking for ways that I’ve been wronged doesn’t praise the Lord. The best way to give glory to God… is by giving glory to God! Praise Him for all he has done for us. Thank him aloud so that others know that we credit Him with the good things in our lives. Be open and positive about the important work God continues to do in your life. Be thankful to Him first and foremost in all things.
Do you think that the story of the lepers still rings true? Do you think that our world has a higher appreciation of thanks to God than 10%? I think this story from the life of Christ should make us all think, just like it made the disciples think several thousand years ago when Jesus first told it. The goal of the story is not to find out the names of the nine that didn’t return and berate and shame them for their lack of thankfulness. The point is also not to find out the name of the Samaritan and make him a celebrity for doing the right thing, and for being thankful where the others were not. The point of the story is this – just be thankful to God for all He is doing in your life.
Isn’t the blight and ruin of sin isolating people in our culture today? Isn’t it just as real and dangerous as any disease or condition that has ever faced man? I think it could be argued even more so than any physical disease. And we, those who have been freed from sin, have had the ultimate price paid for us to redeem us from the lonely, separating effects of sin in our lives.
Shouldn’t we be the most thankful of all?