Are You the Nine or the One?

(This devotion is day four of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)

Read Luke 17:11-19

I grew up on the classic books, The Berenstain Bears. Since I’m forcing my toddler to relive many of my experiences, including my favorite childhood books and shows, we’ve watched episodes of The Berenstain Bears online. One of my favorites is “Say Please and Thank You.” Brother and Sister Bear (the children) forget to say “please” and “thank you,” but they don’t realize it until they see it in others. They do favors for their friends, but feel unappreciated when those friends never say thank you.

What they don’t realize is they’ve been doing the same thing.  While at the dinner table, Mama Bear says, “Saying please and thank you is a small thing but it means a lot.” She fills their bowls with dessert, another kind act that goes ignored. Sister Bear agrees with her mother: “It sure does.” Papa and Mama look at each other, not missing the irony of her words.

Papa then says, “It’s also very easy to forget to say please and thank you. We all forget sometimes, so that’s why we should try very hard to remember those three little words.” With his mouth full, Brother retorts: “We never forget, Papa.” The parents again shoot one another a look.

Brother and sister then ask for a second bowl of berry-dessert. As Brother scoops it to his mouth, it finally sets in. They do forget to say please and thank you. They’ve been forgetting all day, and they just took their mother’s kindness for granted while saying they would never do such a thing. “Uh oh. Gee. I guess we, I mean I, did forget. Thank you for the extra berries,” Brother says. Sister follows suit. “Thanks!”

When I read Luke 17:11–19, I feel angry at how the nine lepers Jesus heals can walk away and never say thanks. They ask Jesus to do something and he does it, and then they overlook and ignore his gracious work for them. I scoff at their ingratitude and think, “How could they do that.” It’s frustrating, if not infuriating. Don’t they know what Jesus has done for them? How can they not give thanks?

It’s easy to spot the failures of others when we read these stories. When we read about Israel in the Old Testament or the disciples in the New Testament, it’s easy to point our fingers and shake our heads about how quickly they forget and how fast they get off course. One minute they’re rescued by God from slavery and the next minute they’re asking to go back. In one conversation Jesus tells his disciples he came to lay down his life for others, and not long after those disciples are arguing about who will be the greatest.

These stories give us a window into our heart, helping us see how we act. I’m like unfaithful Israel or the disciples who miss the point. I often do what the nine ungrateful lepers do. My frustration with them should morph into conviction for my ingratitude.

Guilty of Ingratitude

Luke 17:11–19 shows two ways to respond to God. Before their healing, the ten lepers have needs in their life. They have physical needs in their diseased bodies. Their uncleanness ostracized them from the community. They longed for wholeness and new opportunities healing might bring. They cry out to God from their desperation, weakness, and neediness.

You and I have all kinds of needs in our life. And yet, despite how we desperately ask God to intervene, when God answers, we often ignore Him. Or sometimes, we might say a quick, “thank you,” but we’re not all that grateful. We’re as guilty as the nine lepers who walk away.

But we also see a better way to live and respond. One man, a Samaritan, turns back, praises God with a loud voice, and falls to the ground in front of Jesus, giving him thanks. He doesn’t offer a handshake and a polite thank you to mind his manners. The gratitude inside of him gushes out in the way he gives thanks.

Thanksgiving (eucharisteo) in the New Testaments is always directed to God. These phrases reveal the man receives more than physical healing. He sees that Jesus is God; the one he needs and longs for. Gratitude connects to worship. He gives thanks because Christ’s kind and powerful work of healing allows the man to see who Jesus is. The giving thanks connects to the man’s answered prayer, but it’s also part of his praise because it led to awe and gratitude for Jesus. The man gladly receives a gift (healing) but it leads him to the giver (Jesus).

This poignant story from Luke’s gospel teaches us there are two ways to respond to God: ingratitude that ignores Him or gratitude that worships Him. You can be the nine or the one. We will either take things for granted or receive them with thanksgiving. And this thanksgiving encompasses both the gifts we receive and what it tells us about the One who gives or does them.

What are things in your life you might take for granted that should be received with gratitude? Has God answered prayers which you quickly moved past? What are blessings from God you overlook every day?

God acts gracious and generous in many ways. Give thanks. Consider what God’s given you or done for you, but also see His goodness and kindness in it.

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