So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19)
In my reading this morning I was struck by a ‘connection’ that I have never fully explored, that between thanksgiving and fruitfulness. While today’s passage raises the very obvious interdependence of thanksgiving, faith and healing, it whispered very clearly to me of Genesis in which God commands creation to go forth and multiply, and also of Jesus telling His disciples to go and make disciples. It emphasises the truth that every Word of God is connected, related and inter-dependent. With every version of ‘go’ in the Bible, there is the underlying meaning of ‘multiply’ involved. In the Bible, go has a purpose. It is intended as a specific action that produces something – fruit of one kind or another.
Today’s verse exists within the context of healing, and of relationship with Christ in particular. It also speaks very clearly of the prevalent attitude amongst people with regard to thanksgiving. What the verse is saying, in effect, is that on average, only one out of ten has the right attitude to thanksgiving. What a tragic reflection on the self-centredness of humanity!
This passage initially highlights some of the universal truths about healing which bear mentioning for context. First, it comes as a result of God’s mercy, and has nothing to do with us except for our acceptance that His mercy is the only way. Secondly, is not always immediate – the instant miracle we all hope for. Thirdly, it may require a step of faith to be activated – in this particular case, for example, it was their obedience in going to show themselves to the priests that ‘activated’ the healing. Finally, and this is where today’s devotional focuses, thanksgiving became the ‘active ingredient.’
While we need to be very careful about making assumptions, it does seem very clear that Jesus Himself is making a very clear distinction between the one man and the nine others. That distinction is based on one single truth – the man came back to Jesus, he glorified God, he fell down at his feet in worship, and he gave thanks. As a result of this, Jesus confirms his healing. The faith that heals the man is not that he believed he was healed, but he believed so completely that Jesus had healed him – to the point that thanksgiving became an act of worship and not simply vocal thanksgiving.
Consider, for a moment, the fate of the other nine lepers. Up until their visit to the priests, their story is essentially identical. It is only after this that they go their own way. In simple terms, they meet with Christ, they ask for mercy, they act in faith and obedience, but once they receive the healing, they move on. They may well have spoken loudly and excitedly about what had happened – that is human nature – but the focus was ‘me’ rather than ‘him.’ It was look what happened to me rather than look what Jesus did for me. Inevitably, this kind of ‘thanksgiving’ fades until it stops completely.
The real nature of thanksgiving, then, obviously involves the return to Jesus in an attitude of worship. We need to remember is not something we do, say or feel. It is something we are. The outward manifestations are simply that – outward manifestations of the inner attitude of the spirit. True worship is lived worship. It is the attitude that acknowledges the sovereign I AM of God in all things. Thanksgiving, then, is only genuine if it occurs within the attitude of returning to Jesus.
But how can we then say that thanksgiving and fruitfulness are connected?
There is a fairly common misconception that thanksgiving is a step towards worship, i.e. that it is something we do to bring ourselves into the place of worship. It comes, of course, from the well-known ‘enter into His gates with thanksgiving.’ While on one level this is true because thanksgiving and praise do have the effect of taking our eyes off self and putting them on God, we can never separate thanksgiving from worship. It is part of the whole of worship and not something ‘outside’ worship that we do to ‘get inside.’
But there is another very significant truth relating to thanksgiving that we see over an over in the Bible. Consider the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus did not launch into a long prayer about needs and compassion and grace and mercy. He simply gave thanks, and the result was an overabundance beyond imagination. Then think of Lazarus. Jesus gave thanks and commanded Lazarus to ‘come forth.’ Clearly, the thanksgiving was an integral part in releasing the blessing that followed. Thanksgiving and fruitfulness are always connected.
Now, back to our thankful leper. Again, while we cannot make sweeping assumptions, it seems clear that Jesus is in effect saying that this man’s healing came out of his returning to Jesus in thanksgiving. The inference is clear. Those who did not return most likely did not keep their healing. The fact that Jesus so clearly draws the distinction between the one and the nine tells us that this is a critical truth. Thanksgiving plays a pivotal role in our blessings – our harvest – because it is a statement of faith in the God behind it all. We cannot have faith for something if we do not first have absolute faith in the God of everything.
This is the ‘right’ attitude of thanksgiving – returning to Jesus and acknowledging that He is the source, the power, the only one able and willing to do what is needed. And this kind of thanksgiving will always bear fruit, both in our lives and overflowing into the lives of others. God’s purpose is always fruitfulness in one form or another. It is a fundamental principle that infuses the entire creation. When God says go, we can be sure that it includes multiplication.
Finally, I love the little word ‘foreigner’ here. Jesus is highlighting a sad truth. Often, the ones least likely to offer real thanksgiving are the ‘children,’ the ones who belong. It is the outcast, the sinner, the one we so often despise, that possesses the real humility that underpins real thanksgiving. I’m reminded that he who is forgiven much, loves much. The person who easily recognises his sinfulness and utter dependence on the mercy of God is able to be truly thankful. He will keep returning to Jesus, because he knows that, without Him, nothing is possible. His thankfulness is not so much because ‘I am healed’ but because the Son of the most high God has healed him.
When thanksgiving becomes part of our worship, when we respond not out of duty or because of what we could get out of it, when it is the natural outflow of coming to Christ, I believe we will see the fruitfulness of God in ways we could never even begin to imagine. Thanksgiving may be joyful, a celebration, even a vocal and active expression. But it is, first and foremost, a humble heart surrendered in worship. Thanksgiving is always about coming back to Jesus.
Lord Jesus, how easily our attention gets settled on the things of ‘me.’ Forgive us for looking only from our perspective, for the moments where we have taken Your grace and mercy for granted and not lived the lives of thanksgiving You desire. Help us to be the one rather than the nine, to recognise You in everything, and guide us so that we will always, in everything, return to You.