2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c 5Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ 7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ 9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ 11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.’
1 Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honour and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant for ever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practise it have a good understanding.
His praise endures for ever.
2 Tim.2:8-15 8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself. 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
Luke 17:11-19 11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
They didn’t even say Thank You!
They’d received a life changing cure but didn’t come back to thank him!
Ungrateful? Wrapped up in themselves? Or were they just doing as they were told and going off to see the priests?
Why didn’t the other lepers respond like the Samaritan?
Why was it only the foreigner who showed his gratitude?
In our Gospel reading today there is no indication at all that anyone other than the Samaritan thanked Jesus for healing them. It seems surprising doesn’t it? After all we’re told how the lepers cried out to Jesus “Master, have mercy on us!” (incidentally, the only time that Jesus is called “Master” by someone other than a disciple).
Excluded from society lepers had to shout out to warn others of their presence. The leprosy spoken of here was that condition which rendered them outcasts from their communities, meaning infected Jews could find themselves in the company of similarly afflicted Samaritans.
Contrast Naaman in our Old Testament reading. Whilst he too is described as having leprosy, his continuing presence in society as a respected military commander suggests it was a different, non-contagious condition that he was suffering from. The Hebrew term used to denote leprosy in fact covers a variety of skin diseases.
Naaman, also a foreigner (from Aram – now Syria), seeks healing from the prophet (Elisha) who is in Samaria, at the suggestion of his wife’s servant, a young Israelite captive. Like the Samaritan in our Gospel reading he responds to his healing with profound gratitude, returning with his entire company to thank Elisha and to offer him a gift. Not that Naaman was initially well disposed towards Elisha! Indeed, we’re told how angry he was that Elisha did not deign to speak to him directly but instead sent a messenger to meet him and he wasn’t at all impressed with Elisha’s instruction that he go and bathe in the dirty waters of the Jordan. He’d expected a more instant cure from a waving of the prophet’s hand rather than one which required some action on his part. But he swallowed his pride, heeded his servants conciliatory and wise advice and obeyed Elisha’s command. Once “clean” he returned to acknowledge the one true God. The God who is God of all, Jew and Gentile alike. Israel’s God is the world’s God – God for everyone.
The Samaritan shows his gratitude by prostrating himself before Jesus. The other lepers did though, like him, respond obediently to Jesus’ instruction to go and show themselves to the priests. A leper, if he thought his leprosy had gone away was supposed to present himself to a priest who could declare him clean (see Leviticus 14) so in heading off to the priests before they were clean the lepers were demonstrating their faith in Jesus. Once on their way as directed they are healed.
In returning to thank Jesus the Samaritan is told by Jesus that it is his faith which has made him well. The others proceed in ignorance. So only the thankful man learns that his faith has played a role in his healing and thus grows in his understanding of God’s grace.
I wonder why it is that only he responds with such gratitude? Was he the only foreigner amongst the group? Jesus’ question “Was none of them found to return and give thanks to God, except this foreigner?” might imply that. In which case, might it have been the expectation of the others, knowing what they knew of Jesus, knowing what they knew of his God (their God), that they would be cured? Did they simply take it (the healing) or Him for granted?
In the passage in the Gospel which immediately precedes this account of the lepers’ cleansing Jesus tells his disciples not to expect any thanks for simply doing their duty. So, whilst his disappointment that only one of the lepers returns seems evident from his question at the end, I doubt he was surprised.
Many of us here today will, I’m sure, be familiar with that sense of irritation and annoyance we feel sometimes when we’ve gone the extra mile to help someone only for them not to show a hint of appreciation for what we’ve done. Parents of teenagers who treat them as unofficial taxi drivers at all hours of the day and night may know the feeling particularly well!
The other week I had to make a phone call to a particular credit card provider. In the course of the call I made it known to the employee how much I valued the service I received and how grateful I was for the company’s efficiency. She expressed her surprise that I had bothered to show my appreciation, indicating that people rarely take the trouble to do so. Presumably expressions of thanks are rare because certain standards are expected and taken as a given.
Maybe the expectations of Naaman and the Samaritan were different. Maybe they didn’t expect to receive the same treatment from the God worshipped by their neighbours? The response of both to God’s grace was to give heartfelt thanks.
There’s something very special about saying thank you. It’s not just an act of gratitude it’s an act of love. Like many of my generation, as a child I was taught to respond to gifts from relatives and friends, by writing individual thank you notes and cards to them. That my sister and I took the trouble to spend time crafting written responses brought joy to the grandparents, aunts, uncles and Godparents we loved and deepened our relationships with them. Nowadays, cards are often replaced by texts or emails but they are still messages which are much appreciated when I receive them from my nieces, God-daughters or friends.
God doesn’t insist that we thank Him but, as one writer puts it “is pleased when we do so and uses our responsiveness to teach us more about Himself.”
Naaman thanked Elisha by offering a gift as some kind of payment for his cure. The Samaritan threw himself at Jesus’ feet.
Our predecessors built churches and cathedrals of enormous proportions as centres for praise and worship. Local Christians etched their “thank offerings” in stained glass - as we see here in our own church. Some have offered their thanks in service in the mission fields. Others in simple acts of love for their neighbours.
How do WE express our thanks to God?
When times are rough we might call out to God frequently, seeking His comfort and reassurance. But when the going is good, when the road is smooth, when we’re happy and healthy, how do we respond? How often do we, like the Samaritan, stop what we are doing and return to Jesus simply to say, Thank You?
Richard Young (Rector)