Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Luke 17:19

Jesus reveals much about His heart, our hearts, and gratitude in the story of the ten lepers. Jesus was walking through a certain village and the lepers were far off; far off because lepers had to remain on the outskirts and separated from others without leprosy. The lepers cried out for Jesus saying Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. They wanted healing. Jesus healed them. Each one. When they were healed, they went on their way—except for one leper. When this leper saw that he was healed he turned back to Jesus, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at the feet of Jesus and gave Jesus thanks. Jesus asks were there not ten cleansed? then blesses the one who came back to say thank you by saying to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (Luke 17:19).

Only one leper came back to express thanksgiving. Glaring. Because Jesus questions the absence of the other nine lepers we are wise to take notice. This story reveals the value God places on acknowledging Him for the blessing before moving forward in life to enjoy the blessing. Sometimes going back to say Thank You is a quick realization. Sometimes it is an arduous journey. This can be so when someone or something beloved is gone and life will never be the same. Gratitude is easy when life is easy. In the fullness of dreams, plans, and the living out of the routine and milestone moments, it is possible to meander along life’s pathways ensconced in God’s grace without recognizing God for all He has given. It is when someone or something we hold dear is gone that we may realize what we had—and the Giver. When the season for that blessing is over, two things happen in a heart—gratitude swells and remains or bitterness grows.

People with gnarled hearts live with a resentment that is corrosive and cumulative. Because one suffers a loss that is cruel and/or untimely, bitterness can take root. Miscarriages, people killed by drunk or texting drivers, suicides, homicides, incurable illnesses, sudden deaths of infants or adults, drowning, and those who perish due to natural disasters, are among the reasons why people turn bitter on themselves and on others. They cannot find a reason that is rational nor acceptable. Accepting a loss, in whatever way loss meets us, is essential to healing.

Acceptance may or may not involve forgiveness. Not all losses are abrupt and tragic but every departure of someone or something dearly held does involve a careful review of what has been with that particular person or circumstance. That review is individual for grievers because relationships are distinctive. What we develop with another person, an occupation, a sport taken away due to dementia or a maimed limb, are examples of relationships that define who we are. When that person or activity is gone, we ask Who am I now? For those in Christ, identity does not change with a loss but grief does make people vulnerable to good and bad influences. Sometimes if a bitter root encounters negative ground to which to attach itself, it will. Then negative thoughts and habits will creep in and try to take more ground in one’s life. Anger is justifiable and often an emotion felt in times of trials. But anger that turns to bitterness is dangerous. Healthy anger subsides; bitterness may not. Jesus highlights the leper who came back to illustrate important lessons.

First, when we keep our eyes fixed on God as the source for everything we are given it keeps us humble and dependent on His grace. Gratitude is a safeguard against pride. When we stay mindful of God as the source of all blessing, we reduce the potential for self-centeredness, self-elevation, and pride to take root in the heart. God hates pride. Satan does not. Pride is home base for Satan. It is what had him thrown out of Heaven. Satan was the most beautiful angel in the Lord’s realm but that was not enough for Satan. He wanted all power and exaltation above God. There was not an ounce of gratitude in him for what God had given him and made him. There was the insidious desire for more. In God’s economy there will always be persons with more or less blessings, and the responsibilities associated with the measure He dispenses. However, when a hint of self-righteousness exists and expectation to be favored is in place, pride is present. Gratitude puts credit for blessings where credit belongs, with God alone, and plucks out bitterness and potential pride at its root.

Second, gratitude secures and deepens faith. When we are so moved by the Lord’s blessings and favor on our lives that we come back to thank Him, we reveal our faith that He saw our need and He heard our cry. Moreover, thanking God after a protracted time of illness or grief signifies God’s faithfulness to us. His Word tells us I Am God, I changeth not (Malachi 3:6). When we are in our difficult seasons, God is still all loving, powerful and knowing. He will bring us through tough times, and lead us to the next seasons in life with an embellished character and stronger faith, which develops as the direct result of a trial. He gives insights and knowledge about Himself and life that we would never know without loss. Every loss brings a gain of some kind. It is wisdom to seek out what that gain is.

There is a song titled Thankful on Josh Groban’s CD Noel. Although this is a Christmas CD, Thankful is a beautiful and stirring song to listen to throughout the year. The lyrics include the following line, And every day we hope for what we still can’t see. Sorrow comes; it blinds us to what we cannot see. But hope in God is not a shallow hope, not the world’s hope. The Lord’s hope is alive even if we cannot feel it or see it. We may be unaware that God’s hope is carrying us but it is. God’s hope is the hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). His Word says so, and God backs up everything He promises with His heart and His unequaled power.

This Thanksgiving will bring its share of blessings in traditional cooking, baking, football, and activities common to this holiday. For some of us the day will be quite different than previous years if we have experienced a serious loss. There will be pangs of missing and physical pain for those enduring illness. Jesus understands. The Holy Spirit stays close to comfort and to reduce and relieve emotional and physical distress. The Lord is constantly present, loving, and compassionate. To know this and take each breath in the certainty of His presence and His promises is to live with hope and healing. Life will not be as it was. But it is still filled with the faithful God who gives us grace and responds to the cry of our hearts. Nine lepers went their way after receiving a blessing from Jesus. One leper was made whole because he came back to say Thank You. In all that we must let go of in this life, to hold on to gratitude enables us to hold on to the love. This Thanksgiving, and each day, may we turn back to Jesus to say Thank You and then look ahead with the assurance of His grace and more blessings still to come.

Lord Jesus, we come back to You today to say Thank You for Your touch on our lives that has produced abundant blessings. We come back to You today to say Thank You for hearing our prayers and seeing the tears of those who suffer in any way. Lord, we know You care and You respond to those who call upon You in faith. We gladly give to Thee the glory and the honor for all of the blessings our lives have known and shall know. We trust by faith that even sorrows You will refine into faith more precious than gold. This we pray in Thy Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.