Thanksgiving Day at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
November 28, 2002
Sirach 30:22-24 + 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 + Luke 17:11-19
There are some strange details in this text that should raise our curiosity and by doing so, should lead us to what is revealed by the Luke in this wonderful, familiar story. The Samaritan lived outside the requirements of Judaism. He did not and should not have gone to the priest, which was required by the laws of Judaism. The law required in Leviticus 14 required that anyone cleansed could return to normal life with the certification. What the others did was not out of the ordinary. By their obedience to the command of Jesus, they simply did what the law required. We have every reason to be curious about the reproach directed at them. They did only what they were told, and they did what was expected of them. In fact, their healing occurred in their going, that is, in their obedience. Finally, the statement about faith to the Samaritan is curious since they were all cured, and there was no comment about the faith of the others.
Now left with these curious facts, we can make some sense of this by realizing that there are two parts to this story. One is a typical healing story with the usual elements: a cry for help; Jesus responds, the healing occurs in the act of their obedience. The second part of the story concerns the faith of the foreigner who returns, praises God and gives thanks. When Jesus says: “Your faith has made you whole.” something else is going on. The others were healed, but this man got something else. The word that Luke uses is the same word he uses in the Zacchias story when Jesus proclaims that he came to seek out and save what was lost. The word for SAVED is the same word used in this case to mean “Heal.” What we have here is one story about nine being healed, and one being saved.
The deeper issue here is the difference between the Samaritan and the Jews, and Luke’s Gospel explores that issue more and more deeply as the verses go by. Why were the Jews missing their chance, why were they turning away from the Messiah, what was happening that brought in the gentiles, the marginal, and the outcasts into the glory of God before the one so highly favored? The story anticipates what is coming in Acts of the Apostles: a growing blindness in Israel and an openness among the Gentiles. The special place in God’s plan for the world had turned in upon itself, their favor had turned into familiarity, and duty had turned into privilege. In one sense, Luke suggests that Israel had lost the spirit of Gratitude.
We assemble here today not like the one who returns however, but more like the ones who do what is expected: keep the law, and be obedient. Here we gather to make Eucharist in ways we often simply take for granted on a day that suggests that Thanksgiving is not a holiday nearly as much as it is a way of life. What we might hear in this Gospel today is an invitation to look again at all the little things we simply have begun to take for granted; for in this is revealed the true spirit of gratitude.
It’s easy to be thankful for the big stuff, the things that happen once in a lifetime. But it is God who stays with us day in and day out who has come to bring us salvation. It is a God who continues to be revealed in the daily routine of things, who cares for us in the ordinary ways that longs for our praise and thanksgiving. This was the problem for Israel, a problem made obvious by Luke’s story, and its telling is not for the purpose of pointing out their error nearly as much as it is to get our attention that we might avoid the same mistake. Whatever we have taken for granted, whatever has ceased to amaze us as the free gift of God, whatever we have begun to expect because of some notion of our privilege or right has become a stumbling block, and today this Gospel urges us to notice the difference between the ones who are healed and the ones who are saved that we might see and understand the difference.