A Grateful People

This post is part of a series on Mayfair’s Core Values preached in the summer of 2016.

In March 2004, the Cape Times reported a news story about a South African man who walked in to find nine men robbing his home. Eight of the robbers ran away, but the homeowner chased the final thief into his backyard and shoved the robber into his swimming pool. After realizing that the robber couldn’t swim, the homeowner jumped in to save him. The homeowner dragged the robber out of the pool and the wet thief laid there for a while, wheezing and gasping for air. Once he composed himself, the robber began yelling for his friends to come back and pulled a knife on the homeowner.

This is the quote the homeowner gave to the Cape Times: “We were still standing near the pool and when I saw the knife, I just threw him back in. But he was gasping for air and was drowning. So I rescued him again. I thought he had a cheek trying to stab me after I had just saved his life.”

The American essayist William George Jordan once wrote, “Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.”

grateful-peopleAs we continue our series on Mayfair’s Core Values, today we focus on being a grateful people. The elders have identified this as one of our Core Values, stating, “We are defined by an attitude of gratefulness for what God has done in our lives, and we share with the world what we have been freely given.” We want to be known as a grateful people.

Gratitude is the natural result of a life shaped by the Gospel. This is God’s word to us in Colossians 2:6-7: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. To receive Jesus as Lord is to live “in him” – to be immersed in Jesus so fully that He becomes the focal point of your life. Our roots run deep “in Christ” which produces a strong faith. And one of the evidences of this faith is a sense of overflowing thankfulness. Our lives should be brimming with gratitude.

Are you stingy with your thankfulness? Or does gratitude overflow in your life?

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and he was telling me that one of his pet peeves is when he holds the door open for someone and they don’t acknowledge it by saying “Thank you.” Some people are just miserly with their thankfulness, doling it out only occasionally. But it shouldn’t be this way for followers of Jesus.

There is a recognizable link between gratitude and grace. Grateful people are deeply aware of the grace they’ve received and that awareness prompts them to be thankful. A grateful person recognizes the grace extended to them – as in, “I was drowning in a pool and the homeowner rescued me,” or “That gentleman is being very gracious by holding the door for me,” – and they respond in kind. There can be no awareness of grace without gratitude, no gratitude without an awareness of grace.

The Gospel of Jesus forms us into a people of overflowing gratitude. This is the teaching of this next passage of Scripture I’d like us to look at, Luke 17:11-19:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through a border town and comes across a colony of ten lepers. In the ancient world, there was no known treatment for leprosy. Lepers were expelled from the community and often resided together, situating themselves near major thoroughfares to beg for alms. As Jesus approaches this village, the lepers cry out, Have pity on us! But this translation is a bit misleading. We use the term “pity” as a way of saying we feel sorry for someone. But more precisely, these lepers cry out, Have mercy on us! To have mercy is more than feeling sorry for someone; it is to relieve someone’s affliction, to alleviate the torment of another.

And this is precisely what Jesus does as He sends them to the priests. Leviticus 14 required that a priest examine a leper before declaring him to be clean. So this is really interesting: Jesus sends the lepers to the priests as if they are already healed; and in their obedience, this healing is actualized. As it says in v14, And as they went, they were cleansed. It’s as if Jesus sees not only their present affliction, but He also sees their future restoration. He sees these lepers for who they are already but for who they’ve yet to become as well. And I like to think that Jesus sees us in the same way.

If the narrative ended at v14, we would have a powerful word about Jesus’ power to heal even the worst of our afflictions, the things in our lives we are powerless to overcome.

But the passage continues, zeroing in on one of the healed lepers who returns to thank Jesus. Before we get to him, a word about the other nine. It seems that Luke intends for us to contrast this man’s actions with the inaction of the nine. When the one man returns, Jesus makes a point of noting that the other nine are nowhere to be found. He says, Where are the other nine?

We should note that this passage doesn’t indict the nine for being ungrateful. I try to put myself in their situation. Imagine that you have a highly contagious virus. The Center for Disease Control has quarantined you way out in the county somewhere. You’ve been ostracized from your loved ones for months, maybe even years. And one day, you’re suddenly healed. If I were in that situation, I’d be rushing to get home to my wife, my kids, to let my loved ones know that I’d been healed. And if that’s the case for any of the other nine, they have my understanding.

But that doesn’t change the fact that unexpressed gratitude is really no gratitude at all. No matter how you slice it, the other nine come off as ingrates here. If you’re truly thankful for what someone has done for you, that gratitude needs to find expression. You need to let them know. Gratitude is like good news or a great joke or Wifi…it’s meant to be shared. If our lives are to be overflowing with thankfulness as it says in Col. 2, then we should seize every opportunity to express gratitude to others. Don’t be miserly with your gratitude; instead, let it overflow from your recognition of the grace you’ve received.

This passage also reminds us that ingratitude abounds but gratitude is uncommon. So we probably shouldn’t be very surprised when we hold the door open for someone and they breeze right past us without any sort of acknowledgement. (The next time you rescue a thief from drowning and he tries to stab you, don’t be surprised!) Gratitude is an uncommon virtue. But it’s one we need to embody.

Let’s close by looking at the one man who returns to thank Jesus. It says that he comes back praising God in a loud voice. In an act of humility, he throws himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet, assuming the posture of meekness and servitude. And it says that he thanked Jesus. Luke uses the Greek word eucharisteo to signify this action, a word that was later used as a proper name for the Lord’s Supper. In the Eucharist, we give thanks for the body and blood of Christ. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we should think of ourselves as the healed leper, throwing ourselves before Jesus in humble gratitude.

From these simple actions, we find the recipe for gratitude. The ingredients for gratitude are praise, humility, and thanksgiving.

The best way I know to grow in gratitude is to start listing all the things for which you’re thankful. I say “start” listing them, because you’ll never finish with this kind of list. But I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise. It’s also biblical. Eph. 5:20, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. One way to be faithful to this teaching is to list the things for which you’re thankful.

It’s the same idea communicated in that old hymn we sometimes sing, “Count Your Blessings”:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

There’s some real truth to these words. If you feel yourself lacking in gratitude, take some time to list your blessings and I’m willing to bet that you’ll respond with praise.

Humility is another key ingredient for gratitude. Of course, the opposite of humility is arrogance, pride, and entitlement. It was reported a few years ago that the San Francisco Giants were being sued for giving away Father’s Day gifts at the ballpark. Their crime: the gifts were given to men only. If that story is true, it demonstrates how ingratitude, arrogance, and entitlement are interrelated. At the other end of the spectrum, we find this healed man falling on his face before Jesus. When you’re aware of the grace that has been extended to you, humble gratitude is the natural response.

And the final of these ingredients, thankfulness, is practically synonymous with gratitude. Luke has a final bit of information about our healed man, but he saves it for the very end: v16, He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. As a Samaritan leper, this man would rank at the very bottom of the Jewish social strata. Either of these conditions individually would have been enough for the 1st century Jew to view this man as vile and unclean. But to be both Samaritan and leper was to be subhuman, grotesque, freakish. Perhaps this is the reason our man returns. Perhaps he, more than anyone else, is aware of the magnitude of the gift he has received.

He cried out, Jesus, have mercy on me!

And he was made whole once more.

So he must return to say, “Thank you.”

Is that your story? Have you been made whole by the mercy of the Lord? If so, praise Him today! May gratitude overflow from your life!

Jesus says to the man, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, the text reads, “Your faith has saved you.”

Are you grateful for the salvation that is only found in Jesus?

This entry was posted in Church, Devotional, Faith, Kingdom Values, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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