Today we continue a series looking at what we call faith practices—also sometimes called spiritual disciplines. These are the habits and routines that help to develop and grow spiritual faith. I want to keep reminding us each week that these faith practices are about discipleship. We are called as people of Christian faith to be disciples of Christ—followers of Jesus. And the thing I will remind us each week is that faith practices help to make us better disciples. So, while many among us might already affirm that we are disciples of Jesus, the operative word is better. Faith practices make us better disciples.
This will be the second of twelve faith practices. Last week we looked at sabbath rest as our first faith practice. I hope you took the opportunity over the last week to dig in deep and try at least one new way of practicing sabbath somewhere during the week. However, as I have mentioned before, this series moves us one week at a time over the twelve faith practices we will be discovering over the summer months. It would not be helpful for you to keep adding more and more faith practices into your weekly routine. So, I am going to say put the last faith practice aside for now and move forward to dig into this next faith practice in the coming week.
This is the faith practice of gratitude. Today we look at a story from the gospel of Luke that demonstrates for us something about the way gratitude functions as a faith practice that grows our faith to become better disciples of Jesus.
Luke 17:11–19 (NIV)
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
people with leprous skin conditions needed to isolate away from others
Let me start off with some history that helps explain what is happening in this scene from Luke’s gospel. Leprosy is mentioned often in the Bible. In those days leprosy was not so much a disease as a category for any number of skin conditions—rashes, sores, boils just to name a few. Some of these skin conditions were known to be contagious. So, Jewish law said that people who had any of these leprous skin conditions needed to isolate away from other people. However, lepers could be together with other lepers. Scattered throughout Israel, then, were various encampments or even small villages that contained only people with leprosy.
In this story we encounter ten people from one of these isolating encampments of people who have some kind of contagious skin condition. They stay at a distance and call out to Jesus in a loud voice because they are forbidden by Jewish law from coming close to anyone who does not have leprosy.
Jewish law said a priest must first declare a leper clean before rejoining public society
Also important to the story is a provision in Old Testament Jewish law that provided the way for people with leprosy to rejoin society if their skin condition ever went away. Sometimes it could be the case that a person with some kind of contagious skin rash would become healthy again and the rash would go away. But, before that person could just go back home and rejoin their family and return to normal life, Jewish law stated that a local Jewish priest must first confirm that the skin condition had actually gone away. This explains why Jesus yells back to the ten lepers in this story for them to go show themselves to the priest. It is the next step that they would need to perform according to Jewish law in order to be declared clean by a religious authority.
Jewish people despised Samaritans | avoided contact with Samaria
Let’s also note in this story the inclusion of a Samaritan. Samaria was a region that is included in Israel—right in the middle of Israel’s territory. By the time Jesus lived, Samaria had become populated with people who had intermarried with people of non-Jewish heritage. Jewish people considered the Samaritans to be half-breeds and not actual Jews. Jewish people despised the Samaritans so much that often the Jews would go out of their way to journey the long way around Samaria whenever they traveled from northern Israel to southern Israel. They would add miles and miles of extra walking to their journey just to avoid setting foot in Samaria. There are various other stories in the gospel in which Jesus intentionally travels with his disciples right through Samaria, and Jesus himself interacts with the Samaritan people (something his disciples find surprising, since law abiding Jewish people were supposed to avoid contact with these half-breed Samaritans).
the Samaritan leper’s expression of gratitude displays a priority—he comes back and thanks Jesus first
That means in this story in Luke 17 Jesus is approached by people who have one strike against them already—they are lepers with whom Jewish people were not supposed to associate. And then at least one of these men has two strikes against him—he is a leper, and he is a Samaritan. And it is this man in particular who becomes the example in this story of how gratitude shows up as a faith practice. This man does not only experience the feeling of gratitude, but he also acts upon that feeling and gives an expression of gratitude. More than that, his expression of gratitude displays a priority—he comes back and thanks Jesus first, before going to complete what the Jewish law required to be declared clean by the priests.
Samaritan man is breaking the law by coming to the feet of Jesus before first going to be declared clean by a priest
You and I are so far removed from the original culture of this story that I think the oddities of this scene fly right past us. Consider it. Technically this Samaritan man is breaking the law by coming back and placing himself right at the feet of Jesus before first going to be declared clean by a Jewish priest. The other nine who kept on their way to go immediately to the priest are the ones following the requirements of the Jewish law. And yet Jesus calls out this one Samaritan who side-steps the requirements of the law as being correct and drives the point even further by asking why the other nine did not do the same.
Samaritans were not into the temple where the priests were located
Additionally, there is a problem that arises whenever a Samaritan needs access to one of the Jewish priests. Because Samaritans were already seen as undesirable half-breeds to be avoided, there were plenty of places in Jewish religious society where Samaritans were not welcomed. The Jewish priests worked within the temple. Samaritans were not allowed into the temple; they—along with all other foreigners—could only get into the outermost temple courtyard. This Samaritan man would have had a difficult time following Jesus’ instruction in the first place because his access to a Jewish priest would have required the unwanted step of convincing a priest to come outside the temple area in order to interact with a gentile such as this man.
I also find it striking that Jesus calls out and commends the faith of this one Samaritan man in contrast to the other nine. The way Luke tells the story it is clear that all ten of these men follow the instruction of Jesus to go show themselves to the priest. And Luke makes it clear that all ten of these men are healed as they are going. That right there by itself is an act of faith. None of these ten turned and walked the other way. None of them just sat there and waited to first see if any healing would take place before getting up and following the instruction. All ten of these men started their journey to go to see the priest while still having all the symptoms of leprosy. All ten of them only experience healing as they are already on the way.
All ten lepers have believe Jesus can heal them, only the one who shows gratitude is commended for his faith
It would seem apparent to me, then, that all ten of these men have faith that Jesus can and will heal them. If they did not, why did they bother calling out to Jesus from a distance in the first place? All ten believe in the power of what Jesus can do. But in the end, only the one who expresses gratitude is commended for his faith. that, to me, is a striking detail in this story. So, let’s talk about gratitude as a faith practice that helps produce better discipleship.
Gratitude is our response of thankfulness for God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace. It is the undercurrent of all other faith practices—the well out of which they flow.
gratitude is a response to God, not a request to God | gratitude acknowledges it is God who acts first
Gratitude is our response of thankfulness for God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace. It is the undercurrent of all other faith practices—the well out of which they flow. Open this up and see what it looks like in your life of faith. Gratitude is a response. That means gratitude acknowledges it is God who acts first. It is not a request for God’s goodness; not a request for God’s love; not a request for God’s provision; not a request for God’s grace. Gratitude is a faith practice which acknowledges those things have already been given by God. We are already recipients of God’s goodness. We are already recipients of God’s love. We are already recipients of God’s provision. We are already recipients of God’s grace. Gratitude is an intentional expression of acknowledgement that God has already given those things.
gratitude is proactive, not reactive | expression of gratitude is an intentional choice
Second to note is that even though gratitude is a response to God, it is a proactive faith practice, not reactive. Meaning, gratitude is not based on some kind of subjective feeling of thankfulness that may-or-may-not exist. Expression of gratitude is an intentional choice. I know that sometimes we may have all experienced times when perhaps we have been so overwhelmed by goodness or kindness or generosity that we cannot help but be overflowing with gratitude. But this is different. The faith practice of gratitude is not circumstantial. You don’t just wait around for it to occur. It is not held inside of random moments when we happen to feel overwhelmed with thanksgiving. It is the intentional choice to express thanksgiving to God as a regular habit and spiritual routine.
gratitude seeks to articulate examples of how and when God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace show up in our lives for better awareness
Consider what this does, then, as a faith practice. Gratitude intentionally focuses our attention on God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace. By intentionally looking to express gratitude to God for these things, we must focus attention to be looking for how God gives these things. Gratitude is what makes this personal for your own faith. It is not an academic study of goodness, love, provision, and grace. Gratitude does not look to articulate information about those things for better understanding. Instead, gratitude seeks to articulate examples of how and when God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace show up in our lives for better awareness.
even in moment when God feels absent, he is still there | gratitude seeks to name and acknowledge that
Here is what I notice about that in my own life. There have been moments in my past when I have thought that God’s goodness was absent; there have been moments in my past when I have thought that God’s provision was absent. But looking back I see that God’s goodness and God’s provision are always there, I just didn’t see it. And looking back I realize that the reason I didn’t see God’s goodness and provision is because I was not paying attention to it—I was not looking for it. Just because I don’t always see the love of God doesn’t mean his love is absent. Just because I don’t always see the grace of God doesn’t mean his grace is absent. The faith practice of gratitude teaches me how to better see God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace in moments when I might otherwise miss it.
greatest expression of God’s grace is the cross | most people back then missed it
Jesus came into this world and gave himself for us on the cross. He took the guilt of our sin and took our place. And at the cross where Jesus took the guilt of our sin, he exchanged his own perfect righteousness. You and I are now covered in the perfect righteousness of Christ because of what Jesus did at the cross. I wonder how many of the people in Jerusalem back on that day when Jesus was crucified recognized in that moment what God was doing for them, what Jesus was giving for them. Maybe the thief on the cross next to Jesus who asked to be remembered when Jesus entered his kingdom. Maybe the Roman soldier who declared, “truly this is the Son of God.”
But I would say that most of the people who were present on that day when Jesus gave himself on the cross were completely oblivious to what Jesus provided that day. The cross is the highest expression of God’s grace for the world he loves—there is no greater expression of grace than the cross of Jesus. Most of the people there at the moment did not see it. God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace are always present whether we see it or not. The faith practice of gratitude teaches us to better see it in our world around us.
faith practice of gratitude | focus attention upon God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace in my daily life | give an intentional expression of thanksgiving to God
This week, then, we lean into the faith practice of gratitude. It begins by focusing attention upon God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace in your daily life. And then the faith practice of gratitude gives an intentional expression of thanksgiving for those things in worship to God. I am not going to take time here to list all the different ways you can do that in this coming week. Take advantage of the resources provided to do that. There are suggestions in the Faith Practices booklet for trying out new ways of expressing gratitude. The online resources are there for you as well. This past week with the faith practice of sabbath you were encouraged to try out a scripture reading technique called lectio divina. There are passages again this week for reading scripture in the lectio divina style which focus on gratitude. And again this week there are journaling prompts to give you ideas for taking notes on your experiences this week in trying out new expressions of gratitude. Take advantage of those resources this week. You will get out of it what you put into it. I cannot encourage you enough to stick with it. This series of messages is about growing to become better disciples who follow Jesus. You may not see that result by Tuesday morning; this is going to take time and a prolonged dedicated effort. Stick with it.
new awareness which comes with the faith practice of gratitude forms the undercurrent from which so many of the other faith practices spring forth | gratitude is the well out of which they flow.
God’s goodness, love, provision, and grace are abundant in your life and in our world around us. find new ways this week of becoming aware of that by finding new ways this week of expressing gratitude to God. You will discover in weeks ahead that this new awareness which comes with the faith practice of gratitude forms the undercurrent from which so many of the other faith practices spring forth. Gratitude is the well out of which they flow.