Clueless Enough to Be Grateful

Dear Grateful Gatherers:

Luke 17.11-19 tells the story of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, passing along between Samaria and Galilee. As he enters a village, ten lepers stand at a distance and ask for Jesus’ mercy. He sees them and calls back, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they leave, their leprosy disappears. When one of them sees that he is healed, he turns back, praising God and thanking Jesus. This tenth guy is a Samaritan, a foreigner and outcast. Jesus muses, Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? And he says to him, Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. 

As lepers, nine of the ten were outcasts. They had lost all community except for the fellowship of other lepers. They were the team of the unclean, forced into communal relationship by a shared curse; they were comrades in quarantine. I say nine because the tenth, a Samaritan, was an outcast before the dread bacterial infection ravaged the protein sheath surrounding his nerves with granulomas that scar the skin and eyes and deaden nerves, leaving one’s body without sensation. Unable to feel pain, lepers often injured themselves without knowing; a cut or burn would go unfelt and untreated, resulting in infection and disfigurement. 

Fortunately for those living with modern medicine, leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease, is not considered particularly contagious. It can be treated with simple antibiotics. But in Jesus’ day the cursed condition sentenced the sufferer to a lifetime of social isolation. Once confirmed by the dermatologist/priest, lepers were removed from the community and forced to fend for themselves on the outskirts.

But Samaritans were born into separation. When Jesus tells the ten to go to the priest and present themselves for inspection, their ticket back home, Mr. Ten wanders off with the others. Then it suddenly dawns on him that even in his restored state he would still be ineligible for inclusion. No pronouncement by a public health official would certify him clean – he was a Samaritan before the leprosy and remained just as Samaritan after the cure. But Misters One through Nine couldn’t allow themselves to be thankful until an official told them they were healed. Their thanksgiving was contingent on someone else’s approval.

When I was a kid, I remember receiving some great toy or cool shirt as a gift and, in my excitement, showing it to a friend. If he didn’t react with the same enthusiasm, that beloved gift ceased to bring me joy. My gratitude required their certification. Unfortunately, my codependent gratitude didn’t stop with adulthood.

Some of the most thankful people I know are just too clueless to realize how unimpressed they should be. They are ignorant of all the ways their meager possessions are inferior; they don’t know any better, so they are grateful.

This Thanksgiving I’m hoping for a big serving of cluelessness, the ability to simply enjoy what God has given, praising God and thanking Jesus, wallowing in uncertified gratitude.

Seeking enough foolish faith to be thankful, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor