see Luke 17:11-19 (the healing of the ten lepers)
Jesus provides us with a guide for living. He never asked anyone, “If you died tonight do you know where you would go?” His vision goes far beyond “going to heaven.” He is centered on the Kingdom of God—a Jewish concept permeating the entire Jewish Bible. Everyone knew God is king. The surprise is God’s offer of inclusion extending to the last, least, lost and outsiders.
In ancient times being a citizen was a special status. Not just anyone was a citizen and few people had any hope of that status. This was true of Roman citizenship. It was also true of the Jewish understanding of their covenant status. Outsiders remained outsiders without any assumption of rights.
For Jesus’ hearers, God’s offer of citizenship in His kingdom was a great grace and an unfathomable blessing. Even more amazing, entry to the kingdom was at Jesus’ invitation. “Trust Me,” Jesus said, “and you will have Life with God the Father.” This Grace does not mean, however, that there are no expectations. Becoming a citizen is always a process and being a citizen includes expectations. You make an oath of loyalty to God. You live under God’s laws. It is worth it because you can enjoy abundant life and freedoms spelled out in the Gospel. There great benefits, far greater than the cost (hence it is always grace) but do not be deceived, there is a cost. To quote Jesus, the cost is “everything.”
The last few weeks in our Sunday Gospels Jesus has taught us what allegiance to the Father and citizenship in the kingdom look like. It is very challenging. There are several keys: love and faith are primary. After these, (especially in Luke) it seems Jesus is quite focused on a right relationship to money and the virtue of mercy and forgiveness.
The Christian citizen is expected to treasure God over everything else, especially mammon. Jesus commands us to be generous with it. He warns us against pleonexia. (Literally the obsession with ‘having more’)
The Christian citizen is also expected to be merciful in imitation of the Father. God has forgiven us and we are told to do the same to those who hurt us. This is very hard to do, especially if you have been deeply hurt. Focusing on our sins rather than our hurts, however, reveals that even if we are victims, we are not innocent. We can forgive and trust God to be just in His judgment. We must learn to love, even the unlovable
Since generosity and mercy are so hard why does Jesus demand them? Because …
· Greed kills us. If we are never satisfied we can never be happy. It makes us envious of others and bitter about what we do not have. It cuts us off from God.
· So also is unforgiveness; which Jesus called a deep rooted tree producing bitter fruit. We spend too much time counting our wounds and focusing on our pain; unable to give mercy we are also unable to receive it. (So says Jesus over and over)
Today we see the third component, gratitude, which ties the other two together.
Saying thank you is hard when you are greedy. It is hard to be grateful when you constantly want more. How can you be thankful for what you get, after all, when it is never enough? Anger and bitterness are not fertile ground for gratitude either. When we feel entitlement we focus on what we are owed. When something bad happens and we harbor that anger and resentment, then gratitude gets choked off.
It is not easy to be thankful, unless one realizes everything is a gift. Nine men didn’t return to thank Jesus. Why? We know why. We are frequently part of the group of nine. Every day we take countless blessings for granted because, well, because we expect blessings. One man, however, did return in thanks. Jesus said he was “a foreigner.” (Don’t you love how Jesus is never politically correct!) The foreigner has no expectation of blessing from the God of Israel. Nor should he. As such his eyes are open to the wondrous gift he received. [American culture is so driven by expectations and rights that we cannot fathom such an attitude, and so we can not generate such gratitude…]
The man who returned to give thanks, a Samaritan, is yet another role model of an outsider saved by his faith. It is our calling to open our eyes to see we deserve nothing. We are owed nothing. Everything we get is a blessing. It is time to give thanks (in Greek, eucharist) for our citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It is time to say thanks. A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times each day.