Perhaps on of the most familiar and traditional Thanksgiving texts is the account of Jesus and the Ten Lepers. As Luke 17 records, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”. Without any apparent delay Jesus responded, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they left Jesus’ presence they were miraculously healed.
The traditional question is this. “Which of the ten lepers were thankful?” The traditional answer, however, may not be the correct one. The answer is “all of them.” That’s right. All of them.
All of them were undoubtedly thankful they were healed. Who wouldn’t be? They recognized the change in their physical condition. They not only saw—but felt—the leprosy leaving their bodies. They could move their fingers, hands, arms, legs and other parts of their bodies. They felt the wholeness that resulted in the return of their strength.
Yes, they were thankful. They were thankful they could return to their homes, their lives and their livelihood. They had experienced the fulfillment of their deepest longing: healing.
If all ten were thankful, why is it that only the Samaritan returned to Jesus? Because his thankfulness was more than a superficial recognition of God’s healing power. His thankfulness was more than just a façade of religious gratitude which goes to church, says a prayer or two of thanksgiving, and then continues on with one’s life.
In contrast, the Samaritan’s response to God’s power recognized the that the gracious power of God worked deeply in his heart and soul. This deep healing was far more significant than the “mere” healing from leprosy.
The Samaritan’s Response When the Samaritan threw himself at Jesus’ feet this was not just an act of worship. It was the ultimate total response of soul-felt thanksgiving. He gave oneself fully and unreservedly to Jesus. He placed himself and everything He was at the complete disposal of Jesus. This total action of giving himself as a “living sacrifice” was nothing less than the full, complete and God-pleasing response of undeserved grace. The Samaritan would not use his healing for himself. He would use it for God.
Since the Samaritan’s response of thanksgiving was qualitatively different, the next obvious question is, “Why was it different?” Certainly it was different because of the unique action of the Holy Spirit working through the words of His Lord. Certainly it was because of faith. But the one thing that made it to uniquely different from the others may be hinted at in the verses immediately following this account. There one finds Jesus’ words, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Herein lies the reason for the difference. Though all ten were healed, though all ten were thankful, and though all ten were “religious,” only one recognized the true significance of the miracle. The “Kingdom of God” was within him.
From this time forward, his life would not be directed by the externals.From this time forth he would understand that even if the leprosy were to return, he would have the most important thing anyone could ever have in their lives: the constant and ever-growing presence of God’s gracious working through the Kingdom of God in him.
Regardless of the circumstances, the ever-present recognition that the Kingdom of God was within in would move him to perpetual gratitude in Christ ’s service. No matter what the external circumstances, no matter how difficult, no matter what the challenges, the recognition of having the power and presence of the Kingdom of God within him would cause him to throw himself at Jesus’ feet over and over and over again. His deep sense of thanksgiving could do nothing less. It is the legacy and calling of all in whose hearts the Kingdom of God is present.
Thankfulness And Meaning
Victor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1984) described life and survival in the Nazi death camps during World War II. In life-threatening circumstances, Frankl noted the key for survival.
- “Everything can be taken away from man except for one final thing–the last of human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. [Despite of the conditions in the death camps]…in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of inner decision, and not the result of camp conditions alone.
Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him or her, mentally and spiritually. He may retain human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski once said, “There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.”
These words came frequently to mind after I became familiar with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their sufferings was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom–which cannot be taken away–that makes life meaningful and purposeful.” ( New York: Washington Square Press, 1984, pp. 86-87,).
When the Samaritan leper was healed, it was not just his body (as the other nine experienced) but his soul that was healed. When he received and recognized, by grace, the presence of the Kingdom of God within him, he realized an inner spiritual freedom far greater than that which Frankl described.
When the Samaritan experienced this “spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away,” he gained a profound, inner understanding of the Kingdom of God within him. This made his life meaningful and purposeful” for God. It is this experience which led him to be ever-thankful…and never ceasing to throw himself at Jesus’ feet.
Thrown At Jesus’ Feet
Throwing oneself at Jesus feet…repeatedly…is the hallmark of the “Ministry of Thanksgiving.” Despite the conditions, the conflict, the difficulties, the criticism, the lack of affirmation and the soul-wrenching threats of rejection and antagonism, the Ministry of Thanksgiving continues for one reason and one reason alone.
The Kingdom of God, given by grace and enlivened through God’s Word and Spirit, is within us. This confidence, in success and failure, gives, renews and reaches to the confidence. This confidence gives us “unconditional faith in an unconditional meaning” in Jesus Christ. This is not merely a mark of faith. It is the key to the survival of the “soul.”
By throwing himself at Jesus feet, the Samaritan was demonstrating that he was beginning a new life in the full recognition that, by grace, the Kingdom of God was within Him. For everyone in the service of Jesus Christ, the presence of the Kingdom of God within us works within us the same response.
Whatever the circumstances, are you throwing yourself at Jesus’ feet? Whatever the consequences of throwing ourselves down before Jesus’ feet one thing is for sure. It is the hallmark of one’s Ministry of Thanksgiving. It is this ministry to which Jesus called the Samaritan and us.
May God work within you so that your ministry for the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be a ministry of joyful thanksgiving.
Thomas F. Fischer