These days, we know little about leprosy, the disease that is both referenced more times than any other in the Bible and was the illness most frequently healed by Jesus. In Bible times, it was a terrifying diagnosis because it not only meant an incurable sickness, apart from a divine touch, but also a life sentence to solitude. Sufferers had to live away from the rest of society and could never again live in their own homes or experience the touch of a loved one.
So, it may be surprising that people who lived such a painful reality can be great teachers of gratitude for us. Here are just three examples.
First, heartfelt gratitude says, “Thank you!” Yet most forget to do so. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers and sends them to the priests to confirm their healing; this was a necessary step because anyone once diagnosed with this dreaded disease had to have their recovery confirmed before they could rejoin society. Nine of them headed out immediately to enjoy the full life Jesus had restored. Only one returned to say thanks. But he did not just come back, he shouted and praised God all along the way and threw himself at Jesus’ feet. By the way, true gratitude expresses itself not only in thanks, but in extravagant, loud praise to the God who is behind every blessing.
Second, gratitude expresses itself in generosity and hospitality. There is an incident recorded in both Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 where an unknown woman anoints Jesus with an expensive perfume. For our purposes, what is interesting is that this takes place in the home of a man known as Simon the leper. Scholars believe that Simon was a former leper, whom Jesus had healed. In gratitude to Jesus, Simon hosted Jesus and his disciples even as He was on His way to Jerusalem to give His life for all of us. God has been good to each of us; if we deign to recognize it, he has frequently healed us, provided for us and blessed both us and our families. So, consider in this time of giving thanks how you can pay it forward, showing generosity and hospitality to others. You may not get the privilege of hosting Jesus, but the Bible says that those who are kind often entertain angels without realizing it.
Finally, gratitude should lead us to share both good news and resources with others. In 2 Kings 7:3-10, there is a great story of how four lepers helped save a whole nation. Samaria had been hit with the double whammy of a famine and the siege of the powerful army of Syria. Things were so bad that people were spending their life savings for the nastiest kinds of food (read 2 Kings 6 for yourself if your stomach can take it) and a few had even resorted to cannibalism. Remember them when tempted to complain about how food prices have risen.
But God’s prophet announced that God was about to change things so drastically that within 24 hours, people would be able to buy fresh grain for just a couple of coins. That very night, four lepers decided that they would rather risk being killed by the enemy than starve to death. When they ventured outside the city walls, they found that God had supernaturally scared off the Syrian army, and they had left behind all their food and all their possessions. As they ate their fill and grabbed some gold, they also realized that it would be a great sin to enjoy these blessings while others starved. They took the good news to the king, who though slow to believe them, finally verified their story and opened the gates so that everyone could be blessed.
This Thanksgiving, let us show sincere gratitude for all of God’s blessings, declaring our thanks aloud and praising God, being generous and offering hospitality, and sharing good news, especially the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, with everyone around us.