This concludes my reflection s on Luke 17:11-19, begun in Gratitude: Pause and continued in Gratitude: Point
Years ago, while I was in seminary, I worked at a residential facility for mentally handicapped adults as a Living Skills Instructor, a fancy title for a house parent. I worked in the cottage, which housed thirty of the most independent male residents, functioning at about a fifth grade level. These were special men and I grew to love them deeply. They taught me much, mostly inadvertently.
One of those lessons was about gratitude. These were thankful men, some of the most thankful I have ever met. Their gratitude was sincere. It was as if their threshold of expectations was set very low. They took little for granted. Almost any good thing was treated as something unexpected , something to relish, something to be grateful for. An extra scoop of brown sugar for their oatmeal, a new puzzle in the game box, some microwave popcorn to munch on while watching Wheel of Fortune, an offer to iron a shirt for them, helping write a letter to their family, all were occasions of extreme gratitude. These were enough to clear the bar of their gratitude threshold. Each was not taken for granted, not treated as an inalienable right, not assumed to be a given.
Their gratitude set my ingratitude into sharp contrast. It was through them that I realized that my threshold for gratitude was set higher. I took things for granted that they never would. You'd think that these men had far less to be grateful for than I did. They were confined to a residential facility, sharing a room with another resident, eating institutionalized food, with no hope of ever living independently, having a career, getting married, raising a family. They were cognizant enough to realize what their mental condition ruled out for them. At times they grieved this loss. But that made their gratitude all the more convicting. It came from an unexpected source.
In this story of the ten lepers who are healed and the one who returns to express gratitude, Luke holds back a detail until the last breath. Only after he has told of this man's distinction as being the only one to return to say thank you, he reveals his nationality dramatically and with emphasis. "He threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan" (Luke 17:16). At this, the reader is to gasp with surprise.
For a Jewish audience, Samaritans were the most unlikely role models. They were a hated people, viewed as half breeds. After Assyria conquered the Northern kingdom of Israel, they took many of the inhabitants and relocated them, leaving only a remnant behind. To fill the space, they colonized the area with Mesopotamians imported into the land. These Mesopotamians intermarried with the remnant Jewish population and their offspring became known as Samaritans. To pure Jews, they were seen as compromisers, traitors, nationalistic mutts. Prejudice ran deep. To see a Samaritan in a positive light was unthinkable for a Jew.
And yet here it was, a Samaritan putting this Jewish audience in their place. Jesus responds by saying, "Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? (Luke 17:17-18).
The Samaritans gratitude puts the Jews ingratitude in sharp contrast. Shame on them. And shame on me. When those I would least expect to be thankful outdo me with their thankfulness it serves as a implicit rebuke of how much I take for granted. This Thanksgiving I'm reminded of my friends from the cottage and I set the bar just a little bit lower.