Thankfulness isn’t Real Until it Addresses and Expresses

It’s amazing how shallow and cheap thankfulness is today.  As the person on the street, “What are you thankful for?” and they will likely rattle off several things. Maybe it’s family, or job, housing, health, etc. It doesn’t matter if that person is Christian or Atheist, Buddhist or Hindu—they can (and most likely will) give you at least a few ideas of what they are thankful for.

But the big question that never seems to be asked—or even considered—is this: “Okay, you’re thankful for these things, which is great—but what are you thankful to?” Just that one word, that change of a small little preposition, changes the whole discussion. Why? Because it isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Hear that again: It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

Take a look with me at Luke 17:11-19.

The Setting

Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (possibly for the last time), and He’s got a strange crew of disciples (17:1), apostles (17:5), and Pharisees (17:20) following Him around.

As part of the journey, He walks near the border area of Samaria and Galilee—neither of which had the best reputation among the “real” followers of God. Remember the amazement of the Jews when Galileans began speaking in foreign languages, and preaching in the temple? (Acts 2:7). Remember the time when the Pharisees hurled the insulting epitaph, You are a Samaritan, at Him? (John 8:48). You can be sure that the Pharisees weren’t too happy to be in this area—they usually made it a point to cross over a river (twice) and spend several more hours walking on the journey from Judea to Galilee, just to avoid walking through Samaria.

So, other than for Jesus, this wasn’t a comfortable excursion.

Maybe some of you have a class of people, a type of people you don’t want to reach, don’t want to talk to, don’t want to help. Maybe you’ve written them off as a Samaritan. Maybe it’s because they’ve been on drugs (or still are), or maybe it’s because they struggle financially and have needs they need help with. Maybe their clothes are tatty and worn, or they have tattoos, or they’re black, or Latino, or Republican or Democrat, young or old, atheist or Pentecostal. And maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay.

Jesse and a friend one time attended worship in Columbia, Missouri. The class discussed reaching people with problems (drugs and prison history), and one woman admitted, “I don’t want to deal with them because I’m afraid they will need more of my time than I’m willing to give.”

But Jesus worked hard, both in His teachings (the good Samaritan) and His actions (see the woman at the well in John 4) to humanize, to elevate the Samaritans as being worth reaching, worth the time it takes to engage them. In other words, Samaritan lives matter. Are there types of people you have written off as unworthy of the gospel? Jesus says their lives—and souls—matter too!

The Request

If being that close to Samaria wasn’t bad enough, things got even more uncomfortable. Lepers! Ten of them! Ten men with a flesh-eating disease, bodies gnarled and misshapen, faces unrecognizable, unable to interact with normal society, stood at a distance and called out in a harsh squeaky voice,[1] “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

These men felt the crushing weight of oppression. This disease mocked them. It said, “You aren’t worthy to come to the city. You can’t live near real people. You can’t worship with the real followers of God.” They felt this loss, this shame—brought on through no fault of their own—day after day after day after day after day… And instead of pity and help, they usually received a cold should of indifference from people they saw at a distance.

But then they saw Jesus. A crowd around Him, yes, but they saw Jesus. They cried out with that barely-human voice, “Master, have mercy on us!”[2]

Why didn’t they address the apostles? After all, these twelve men had been given the power to heal lepers (Matthew 10:8). So why not call for their help? Maybe they had heard that some of the apostles wanted Jesus to obliterate an entire Samaritan village with fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56). That could really undermine their influence, right?

Maybe you’ve let your tongue get out of control and killed your influence and credibility with some people. Maybe it was a racist joke, a harsh attitude, or just a cold shoulder of indifference. What might it be that causes people to not want to talk to you about their hurts, problems, and needs?

See, Jesus was well known as someone who helped people. These lepers knew that if they were going to get mercy, sympathy, and help from anyone, it would be Jesus—He has proven it over and over again. He cared then and cares now for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the ignored. He takes the time to show they are important to Him.

The Answer

Jesus responds to these hurting and ostracized men with compassion and a command. Now don’t let this fact get by you. Jesus told them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And when they acted in faith, God acted in love. Hear it again, When they acted in faith, God acted in love.

They weren’t healed immediately—it was only when they started their obedience, started on their way to the priests, that they were cleansed. Had they stayed still, the leprosy would have stayed. Had they hobbled into the city, they would have kept on hobbling.

The principle, When man acts in faith, God acts in love, is seen all throughout the Scriptures. “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8-9). “By faith, Noah…built an ark to the saving of his family” (Hebrews 11:7). “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). Acting in faith is obeying what the Lord commands, trusting that He will keep His word (and He always does).

God never tells you to do something impossible. He loves you, and wants you to spend eternity with Him. But in order to do that, you have to act in faith, and trust Him that the rewards of faith are greater than anything you’ve ever experienced!

The Thankfulness

Now we get back around to where we started this lesson. One of those ten men, when he saw that he was cleansed (and remember that Jesus’ healings were complete—so his whole body would have changed: from gnarled to normal, from bent-over to upright, from hobbling to running)—when he saw that he was cleansed, he turned around and almost certainly ran to Jesus.

I love what Luke says next. “He praised God with a loud voice.” Leprosy would have destroyed his voice—it would be like permanent laryngitis.[3] But now he has a “loud voice,” and he uses it! The Greek here is awesome. The word “loud” is mega, and the word “voice” is phone. Mega-phone. This man was loud and proud—he wasn’t scared to let anyone and everyone know that HE HAD BEEN HEALED! And that it was THANKS TO GOD! Then he “threw himself down at Jesus’ feet” (NIV).

Remember what we said at the beginning, It isn’t real thankfulness until it’s addressed and expressed. There is no doubt that he was thanking God (not just “being thankful” in general) for his cleansing. And he clearly expressed it in his words and actions.

Those other nine were “thankful,” I’m sure, in the way our modern society uses the term. They were happy about it (they asked for it after all, so they obviously wanted it), but that’s about as far as it went. No smile and a wave at Jesus in recognition of this kindness. No hollering “Thanks Jesus” over their shoulders as they stand upright for the first time in months or years and walk away. No praising God for His great love and mercy.

If a reporter from the Jerusalem News or the Samaritan Post had asked the nine ungrateful men, “Are you thankful you’re not a leper anymore?” I’m sure they’d say, “Yes.” But they didn’t show it. They got what they wanted from Jesus, and that’s all they needed Him for. That’s not gratitude. One writer said “…ingratitude was a worse leprosy than the physical disease.”[4]

Do we treat God the same way? We go to Him in prayer and ask for stuff, for outcomes, for guidance, and when we get them, we conveniently forget to even give lip-service thanks to Him.

The Ingratitude

If the story ended here, it would still be worthwhile by seeing the example of a truly grateful person. But it doesn’t. Luke adds a brief little sentence: “And he was a Samaritan.” Of all people, a Samaritan is the only one who was truly thankful. The one most looked down upon shines as the brightest example of the ten!

Jesus points this out when He asks the disciples, apostles, and Pharisees, “Weren’t there ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” I know a guy who, when he was a teenager, got a card from a member of the church. His mom asked him if there was any money in it (because this member had a habit of doing that), and he said, “Yeah, but only $20.” If you had given that money, and you heard that response, how would it make you feel? That gives you an small inkling of how Jesus felt at the complete ingratitude of people whose entire lives had just been changed.

Then He says, “Only this stranger [allogenes, literally person from a different family] returned to give glory to God. Most commentators agree that this means the other nine lepers were Jews. Zerr says, “The mere mention of this man’s nationality, in connection with his exceptional conduct of gratitude, was intended as a rebuke for the Jews.”[5]

The man could have said, “I’m thankful to be healed,” but that wouldn’t have been true, real, authentic gratitude—because gratitude, thankfulness, is directed towards someone or something. Why do we tell people “thank you”? Because we all realize, whether we act on it or not, that thanks is something given (“thanksgiving” anyone?), and if it is given, it must be given to someone. It isn’t real thankfulness until it is addressed and expressed.

The Reward

Jesus looks down at the incredibly grateful man and tells him to “Go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” Now I want you to take careful note here. He had already been cleansed of his leprosy, as had the ungrateful nine. So what Jesus gives him here is something different. The Greek word for “made whole” is sozo, which is usually translated “saved.” Young’s Literal Translation says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.”[6]

Faith—true, authentic faith—expresses itself in gratitude. If gratitude is missing, then how can you claim to have faith? (“In everything, give thanks” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.)

The Questions

Are you thankful for your home? Your family? Your friends? Yes? Then to whom are you thankful? To whom is that thanks given?

Are you thankful that God sent His only begotten Son so that we might be saved from sin? Yes? Then how are you expressing that?

Remember, When man acts in faith, God acts in love.

Show your thankfulness, your gratitude, by coming to Christ for healing of the sins that eat away at your soul. Whether that’s through baptism to put on Christ, or prayer as a Christian seeking forgiveness, show your gratitude today.

When you act in faith, obeying His loving Word, then you can take the words of Luke 17:19 to heart: “Arise… your faith has saved you.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

[1] “…the lepers’ bronchial tubes are dry and the voice is high and squeaky.” J.W. McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel, p. 530.

[2] The word translated “Master” means a commander, overseer, or one who has authority. In the New Testament, it only appears in Luke.

[3] “An almost total failure of the voice is one of the symptoms of leprosy.” Burton Coffman, Luke, p. 376.

[4] The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 298.

[5] E.M. Zerr, Commentary Vol. 5.

[6] Smith’s Literal Translation does as well, and it appears in footnotes/marginal readings in several translations and study Bibles.

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