Last Sunday, the Gospel reading encouraged us to consider the difference between disciples and servants. A servant, lacking faith, works to receive thanks, but gets none, whereas a disciple with faith lives out the Gospel as a means of giving thanks. Luke follows that lesson with the miracle story in this Sunday’s Gospel, which warns against another mistake disciples can make: treating salvation as an entitlement. Whereas the missing ingredient in last week’s Gospel was faith, in this Gospel reading, the missing element was gratitude.
‘One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.’ (Lk 17:15-16)
How can you make sure you remember to give thanks?
What saving deed has God done for you or someone you love?
What tasks of discipleship can you use to give thanks to God?
At first glance, the miracle story in this Sunday’s Gospel reading is similar to a healing recorded in Lk 5:12-16, early in Jesus’ ministry. The traditions are similar enough that they may have actually influenced each other as they were told and retold. But there are some significant differences, which draw our attention to the role of faith.
Jesus encounters these lepers on his trip to Jerusalem. This is a time during which he gives extensive instructions in discipleship. Also, in contrast to the healing in Lk 5:12, Jesus does not reach out, touch or pray over the stricken men. They remain at a distance the whole time, and his only word to them is, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” In this Luke foreshadows Jesus’ statement, “Your faith has saved you.”
Such faith entails openness to God’s grace. All 10 lepers believed Jesus could heal them. Their mistake was in taking that healing for granted, forgetting that faith, although it gave God an opportunity to act, did not entitle them to a display of divine power. Only one realized that his healing was an unmerited grace, the one who returned to give thanks.
God does not make deals or offer transactions. Faith is not a thing God demands from us; it is a spiritual stance, an open heart that gives God room to maneuver. If discipleship without faith is servitude, then faith without thanksgiving is commerce.
It is easy to fall into this trap, especially for those who work for faith-based organizations or struggle to advance in discipleship. It might become easy to feel that we have built up some kind of credit with God, that our acts of discipleship are like cash deposits in a bank. It is easy to forget to give thanks when a subtle whisper in our psyche suggests that God owes us.
True discipleship, as demonstrated by the Samaritan leper, is an expression of thanksgiving. He was the only one who recognized the utter freedom of divine grace, and the only one who acknowledged his own need to respond by giving thanks. In that, he was a model disciple, someone with faith enough to give God room to act and humility enough to be grateful.
This remains the case. The grace we receive every day is a free gift from the God who loves us. It is the power with which we overcome obstacles, find healing, resist temptation and serve the needs of the kingdom. That we can receive that grace and act out of it is cause for a lifetime of thanksgiving.