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? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
Beneath the surface, sometimes even hidden from our own awareness, may lurk a more manipulative intent behind our gratitude. The believer sometimes thinks— If I offer these prayers, if I give these sacrifices, and if I show my gratitude for past blessings, then God will bless me again … When that is our motive, our gratitude becomes a mere gratuity, and it’s a sure sign that our faith has been shaped by a consumeristic and superstitious vision in which our hearts are set on God’s good gifts rather than God himself.
There is another, purer form of thanksgiving. It is a form of gratitude free from manipulation and selfishness because it seeks nothing in return. We see this displayed in Luke 17. While passing through a village, ten lepers cried out to Jesus for mercy. He instructed the lepers to present themselves to the temple priests, and on their way, all ten were healed. One, however, returned to Jesus, fell on his face, and thanked him.
Why didn’t the other nine return and offer their gratitude as well? Probably because they had already received what they desired; they were already healed and there was nothing more to be gained by giving thanks to Jesus. They had seen Jesus as merely a healer; a device through which their desire for wholeness was achieved. Having received what they wanted, they had no reason to engage with him again. Simply put, they just wanted to be healed and never really wanted Jesus.
For the nine, and for many of us, thanksgiving is a transactional practice. We worship, praise, and express gratitude because we’re expecting something in return, and when no return is possible, or no further blessing is desired, we see no need to offer more thanks.
For the one leper who returned, however, thanksgiving was pure. He thanked Jesus because he was overwhelmed with gratitude not just for his healing, but to the One who healed him. He came to recognize that Christ himself was more valuable than any particular gift he might receive from him. This kind of pure thanksgiving—the kind which seeks nothing in return—is only possible when we fix our eyes on the source of our blessings rather than the blessings themselves.
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