LUKE 17:11-19 TEN LEPERS (THE VIRTUES OF THANKFULNESS)

 

Today marks the beginning Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival. It is a time of great thankfulness and celebration. To remember their pilgrim past of the Exodus, Jews build ‘shelters’ in the garden, on the balcony or inside the house according to space available. They invite family and friends to visit, they make a special staff from leaves and a lemony fruit, eat fresh food and even sleep over if possible. It is a celebration of the good things of life. At the same time they read the gloomiest book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes: ‘A time to be born and a time to die’, ‘All is vanity’ and so on, the reflections of an elderly and cynical King Solomon who had ‘see it all’ and concluded that good and bad happen anyway so accept this make the most of the good. Be thankful and happy anyway as far as you can.

 

I am astounded by the good manners of kids these days. * As a senior colleague was saying the educational emphasis on mutual respect and tolerance in all our schools is really paying off. And the other day at lunch I heard my six-year-old grandson Toby say in cultured tones, “Please pass me some more chips Daddy.” And just as important, a ‘Thank you' when he got them. He is fast learning that good manners, a please and thank you, get rewards!

 

Today we heard the story of the ten lepers. Passing through the dodgy territory of Samaria where orthodox Jews and the locals had been daggers drawn since the racial deportations and resettlements some centuries before, these unfortunates, outcasts of society, called out to the passing miracle working rabbi Jesus for healing. To everyone’s astonishment he did the bizz, and at his bidding they ran off for official examination by the priest, who alone could pronounce them ‘clean’ and clear the way for a return to society. Thankfulness was in short supply that day. Just the one came back to return thanks for his deliverance. “Where are the rest?” joked Jesus. And in a dig at his companions, “this one is a foreigner!”

 

Thankfulness remains a much under rated Christian value. The Americans are much better at it than us; every year they have a whole festival of Thanksgiving. In my role as SIAMS (Church School) Inspector, we learned how to encourage ‘Distinct’ Christian values and ethos for schools. Of course, it is all very hard to define, many values are universal: mutual respect, forgiveness, truthfulness and so on. I think the Christian distinctive is to see them in the context of Jesus’ teaching.

 

St Paul outlines a whole list of values in Galatians, thankfulness being one of them. I think he means ‘Thankfulness’ to God for the blessings of this life. “Well I don’t have much to be thankful for” some of you will mutter. Oh yes you do! Everyone here has had the opportunity of breakfast after a night under a roof, lunch to look forward to, the possibility of medical care if we get ill, and so on. Right away that puts us in something like the top 2% of world society. We have no excuse whatever for not returning thanks to God each and every day.


But there is more. Practicing these qualities day after day, month after month, year after year, forms our character as believers, thankfulness being one of the most important. We have a choice to develop them or not. Now those of you who know your Aristotle will recall how he held that what he called ‘virtue’ could be learned. Is he right? Many Reformed theologians and Enlightenment thinkers thought not, but I disagree, preferring to see St Paul and indeed Jesus as good Aristotelians. In this country we all have many blessings. As we get older, so we have a choice: to become a thankful person or a sour person, along with much else. It is down to us. Do we hold on to our resentments and become sour, or let them go, give thanks, and move on?

 

And it is all pretty important as the Bible teaches us that that sort of bad stuff cannot be taken through the Pearly Gates, and as C. S. Lewis pointed out many will choose to stay outside rather than let go of their resentments. In fact, sadly many have already made their choice.

 

Try giving thanks to God every day. Aristotle was right. It will change us all for the better, and like Toby’s good manners, a spirit of Christian Thankfulness pays rich dividends.

 

*I am equally astonished by the ongoing bad manners of my own generation to each other and to children especially. We clearly have a lot to learn from young people.