The story is recorded in Luke 17:11-19. It goes something like this. Jesus is traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Along the way he encounters ten lepers on the outskirts of a town, there because Jewish law demands that those with infectious skin diseases must live outside the camp (Leviticus 13:46). These are the societal cast-off. The men who stand at the end of exit ramps with their cardboard signs. The people I tend to look right through. But Jesus sees them. He sees beyond their leprosy. He sees individuals with value.
These men cry out for mercy and he responds, telling them to go show themselves to the priests. This is the first step in an eight day process of cleansing laid out in Leviticus 14 that involves birds, scarlet yarn, hyssop, cedar wood, bathing, shaving, laundering, two male goats, flour with oil, and a partridge in a pear tree. You can read the riveting account for yourself. These men certainly have. What to me is a boring litany of rules regarding how someone with an infectious skin disease is declared clean is pointedly relevant to these men. Leprosy has controlled their lives. They are intimately familiar with what God's Word has to say about their condition.
This cleansing process hangs like a checklist in their minds, one they have always dreamed of utilizing. Now, Jesus has instructed them to take the first step. But it all hinges on the priest determining that they have been cleansed from their disease. And when they set out, they are still covered in leprosy. As they are on they way, the healing occurs. And with this healing, their journey to the priest is infused with urgency. Their minds are full of the checklist from Leviticus 14. This is the key to their entry back into society. They are dreaming of white picket fences, flannel sheets, coffee at Panera. Leprosy has hijacked their lives long enough. For the first time in ages, there is hope for their future. They are focused on completing the list.
All but one. One, when he sees he is healed, returns to Jesus to say thank you. This isn't on the list. This is not part of the cleansing process. The birds, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn - these will wait. He will pause from the list to express gratitude. And this is thanksgiving, our willingness to pause from the enjoyment of the gift to express gratitude to the giver. It's this pause that I struggle with.
I suspect I am more like the nine than the one. I like lists. I work best when I have an agenda. I enjoy scratching things off as they are completed. I do not like to be interrupted. I have tunnel vision.
Plop me into that group of ten, healed on my way to the priest, and I'm more prone to continue on with the nine than to return with the one. First let me get my feet under me. I'll finish the cleansing, move into a split level, lease a Corolla, start my new job. Then I'll be in a position to properly express my gratitude. I'll have Jesus over for dinner. We can have the spiral cut ham with the cheesy potatoes. But by then, there are new lists I'm focused on.
It's an implicit ingratitude. If you asked me directly I would say I am thankful, but my failure to pause demonstrates that while I may enjoy the gift I am indifferent toward the giver.
November is an annual reminder of my failure to pause throughout the year to recognize how much God has given me. Sure, it's been a busy year. A year full of lists. But it's also been a blessed year. A year full of gifts from the hands of a loving giver. Everyday I enjoy his gifts, both big and small. Most are enjoyed with that same implicit ingratitude of the nine. But occasionally I join the company of the one and pause.