The story of the ten people who were healed from leprosy by Jesus puts the human tendency towards ingratitude into focus. As we so well know, although ten people were healed of their condition, nine of them accepted the gift of healing without a second thought, while one of them sought out the Lord and expressed his thanks for the gift of a new life. The gospel story carries extra meaning when we recall that the man who returned to give thanks to Jesus was an outsider. He was a Samaritan, someone excluded from Jewish society even when he was not declared unclean--doubly excluded when he was. This was the only one of the ten who felt driven to go back and express his gratitude to the Jewish rabbi who did not exclude him from the gift of healing.
The deep-rooted instinct to offer thanks, to express gratitude, to acknowledge a giving or sharing relationship with another person, seems to be very much an in-built part of our human nature. As social animals, we inevitably connect with the lives of other people; and part of that connection seems to involve the recognition of mutual help and support. If we don't give expression to those times of help and support, by showing gratitude in some meaningful way, the relationship soon crumbles; when we do express gratitude in our responses to other people, the relationship seems to deepen and grow in trust and mutual affection. Expressing our gratitude to someone is one of the most powerful building blocks that we have in our range of social skills. It is up there with forgiveness as one of the factors in our relationships which heals, and builds, and promotes health in how we interact with other people.
One of the interpretations often given to the encounter between Jesus and the man who came back to offer thanks is that the man received a second, much deeper healing from that conversation. We ask why would Jesus say 'Go, your faith has healed you' when the man was already healed-unless something much more significant and personal had passed between them. Perhaps, while all ten were cured of their leprosy, the man who made the effort to turn around and give thanks to Jesus was made whole in a much more profound way.
I wonder, if we sometimes miss the point of showing our gratitude for whom we are and how we are. I wonder, if we sometimes misunderstand exactly who benefits from our gratitude. It is always rewarding to receive thanks from someone, and it helps in the development of our relationship with that person: but the real growth and healing happens in the life of the person who offers thanks as a natural response to his relationships with others. Giving thanks, accepting and acknowledging help, recognising that we depend on others, forming communities based on love and respect, are all Christian models of responding to God in other people. Experiencing and expressing our thanks for all those aspects of our life is part of the very bloodstream of the Church as the Body of Christ. And the more we can reflect those models in our relationships, the more we will grow towards health and wholeness.
Perhaps the challenge to those who follow Jesus is to aim for the more profound wholeness which comes from those deep expressions of gratitude which nourish and strengthen our relationships. It seems to be a core part of our nature, if only we will nurture it and give it a priority in our dealings with others.
Sometimes perhaps, like the Samaritan who experienced the healing of Jesus, we do need to come to a halt, turn around, retrace our steps, approach the one who held out a hand of friendship and healing for us, and be the one to express our gratitude for the love shown to us. And whether that happens in our relationship with a friend in our closest circle, or with an acquaintance on our outer margins, or with our brother Jesus in prayer and worship, we know we follow the example of the excluded stranger who found not just health, but wholeness.