‘Leprosy’ in Biblical times included a number of diseases, not just modern leprosy. It was greatly feared, not just for its physical effects, but because lepers were driven out of society to prevent the disease spreading. Lepers were ‘unclean’, contaminated, and liable to contaminate others; in Israel they had to live outside cities and villages, and were not allowed to mingle with other people, even for worship. This was not the case in all cultures at all times; Naaman was able to keep his job and his family in Syria although he had leprosy.
We tend to separate in our thinking the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of our beings. The people in these stories did not do so. Naaman recognised that his healing came from God, the God of the Israelites; he knew that he had to respond by honouring that God rather than the gods of his own people. The lepers who came to Jesus went as instructed to show themselves to the priests, which all people who recovered from leprosy were required to do in order to be readmitted to society. If the priests pronounced them clean, they would have to offer certain sacrifices in thanksgiving, acknowledging God’s role in their recovery.
Jesus expected more. One out of ten reacted as he had hoped. What had the other nine done wrong? All ten had asked Jesus for healing. That took courage and faith. When Jesus told them to do what cured lepers should do – to act as if they were healed, even though nothing had happened – they obeyed. That took courage and faith. When the healing took place as they were on their way, the foreigner did what he had not been asked to do: he turned back to thank Jesus. The nine continued on their way, to do what Jesus had commanded. Yet that was not what Jesus wanted from them.
We can all think of good excuses for the nine, possible reasons why they did not immediately turn back to say, ‘Thank you’. But the fact remains, Jesus had wanted and expected them to give thanks before they did anything else. Gratitude is an essential ingredient of our relationship with God; it is an expression of faith (and love and joy), it builds faith, it honours God. Without gratitude we are not whole, we are not very well. Jesus’ desire was not simply that the lepers be cured; he wanted God to be glorified, and them to be made whole.
1) Why is thankfulness so important?
2) What can we do to become more grateful to God? How can we express it?
3) What have you got to be thankful about?