Dead Men Walking!
By Pastor Vince Gerhardy
Who is this man? He lived from 1865 to 1936. He was English, born in Bombay, India. He wrote poetry and is the author of books like Captain Courageous, How the Leopard Got His Spots, and the Jungle Books. If you guessed Rudyard Kipling then you were right. The now famous Jungle Book Stories have been made into a number of movie length films. Kipling’s writings not only made him famous but also brought him a fortune.
A newspaper reporter came up to him once and said, “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over one hundred dollars a word.” The reporter reached into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred-dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a one hundred dollar note, Mr. Kipling. Now you give me one of your hundred dollar words.”
Upon receipt of the money, Rudyard Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket and said, “Thanks!”
The word “thanks” is certainly a one hundred dollar word. In fact, I would say it is more like a million-dollar word.
It’s a small word but it has a powerful meaning. It might only have 6 letters but it gets across a message that few other words are capable of achieving.
It’s a word that conveys a powerful message about the relationship of two people and the appreciation of what one has done for the other.
It’s a word that is said with special meaning in response to something unexpected and undeserved that one person has done for or given to the other. And when that little word is missing, we feel it deeply. When someone fails to express gratitude for something you have done, maybe you’ve gone out of your way to do a favour and when that person doesn’t say “thanks” – we feel hurt, used, ignored, and taken for granted and we wonder why we bothered in the first place.
The story in today’s Gospel has a lot more to say than I can go into today, especially Jesus’ special relationship with outcasts and Gentiles and their place in the family of God. For Jesus, it doesn’t matter if a person is a social outcast or has a dreaded disease that everyone else fears. Jesus treats everyone the same. He wants all to be healed and saved.
Because today’s service is focused on giving thanks to God, I want to concentrate on just the verses that tell us how those ten men responded to the love of Jesus and the gift of restored health.
The ten people with leprosy were under a sentence of death – there was no cure – no one dared come near them – no one would touch them, handle anything they had touched, or even come near them.
The rules laid down in the Old Testament forced lepers to live apart from everyone else. In the Book of Leviticus we read, “The leper in whom the plague is shall wear torn clothes, and the hair of his head shall hang loose. He shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ All the days in which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. Outside of the camp shall be his dwelling” (Leviticus 13:45,46).
Mindful of the Old Testament rules the ten lepers call out to Jesus from a distance: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (17:13).
The ten lepers were living corpses – dead men walking. Whether you were talking physically, spiritually, or socially, they were dead men. Their greatest desire was to be healed, to be raised from the dead so to say, and return back home to a “normal life”.
That’s all that they were asking for. Just a chance to “be like other people”, an opportunity to go back home be like everyone else, to be normal. But instead they were regarded as less than human,
Their sickness was a sign that they were guilty of great sin.
They were to be shunned and avoided.
That’s what everybody else saw. But when Jesus saw them he saw something else. He saw their pain, not only physical pain but also the pain of being separated from their families, their friends, their neighbours. He saw the pain of being shunned by everyone. He saw their loneliness. Everyone else saw them as living corpses, but Jesus saw them as living people.
Jesus saw their need and they were healed.
How did these ten men respond to this gift from Jesus? Only one man “turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” (17:15-16). We know that all ten were healed but only one returned to give thanks.
A pastor announced to the congregation that nine persons were lost at sea. Even though this announcement was made during a time of war, nevertheless the congregation were shocked. They were stunned that so many from just this one congregation had been lost. Then the pastor went on to add, “Well, eleven persons requested prayers for those going out to sea, and only two asked me to give thanks for a safe return, so I assume that the other nine were lost at sea.”
For 40 years God looked after and helped his people as they wandered around in the wilderness, providing manna, water, protection, and finally brought them to a rich and fertile country, “a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey.” The writer concludes saying, “remember…your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:7, 18).” But we know that it wasn’t long after they settled in the Promised Land that they forget all about God’s generosity and never-ending care for their daily needs, and ungratefully and thanklessly turned to the gods of Canaan.
It seems that it is part of our sinful human nature to always be big on requests and small on thanks. There is a legend about two angels who were sent to earth to gather up the prayers of people from all over the world. One was to fill his basket with the requests that people asked for in their prayers. The other was to gather their prayers of thanksgiving. Sometime later they went back to the Father’s house. One had a basket heaped high, and running over, with countless requests. The other returned with a sad and heavy heart, for his basket was almost empty. Prayers of thanks were heard only on rare occasions on earth, even though the angel had diligently searched everywhere.
Today, at this Thanksgiving service, we are called to acknowledge the many times we have been so thankless and taken God’s daily generosity for granted. We are reminded that because of our sinfulness we don’t deserve God’s goodness and generosity, but he still gives us everything we need out his love for us.
The majority of people in our community have no idea that God is the giver of everything. They reject the idea that anything other than their own hard work and good management put food on the table and clothes on their back. God doesn’t come into the equation at all. Because they don’t know God they don’t know how generous he is. But that doesn’t stop God from being generous even to those who will not admit to his goodness.
Gratitude arises out of our relationship with God. We are thankful because we know who it is who has given us so much. We are thankful because we know that God still provides for us generously even though we are sinners, often ungrateful and selfish sinners. We are thankful because we know what kind of God we have. He cares for us, provides for us, protects us. We have food on the table, good homes, good times, love, and health. We have tasted the pleasures and joys of life because he is our heavenly Father who loves us and has mercy on us.
The question that rises now is this, can you still be thankful:
• when you have experienced so much sickness and continuing ill health?
• when you who have had to lay to rest a loved one whom you miss very much?
• when you have had to face the indignity and the worry of unemployment?
• when you are overwhelmed with worry and are depressed about the way life is turning out?
Do you have any reason to be thankful this morning?
Let’s imagine this little scenario. Imagine that the economy went really bad and we were all out of work, and we all had to line up for basic food rations. Imagine if there was a real breakdown in law and order in our community. Would we still hold a festival of thanksgiving? Would there still be something to be thankful about?
The apostle Paul would say, “Yes”. Recall how he was imprisoned and yet he could still be thankful. While he as in prison he wrote this, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly….. I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. I know how to be humbled, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in need” (Phil 4:10-12).
We read in the Book of Acts how Paul and his friends prayed and sang hymns to God as they sat in their dark cells in prison. Things certainly could have been better for the apostle – the prison was cold and dark, the food terrible, their future uncertain but still the apostle could be thankful. In the end gratitude doesn’t arise out of what we have been given but out of our relationship with God. In fact everything can be taken away from us, and yet we can still be thankful because we have a loving heavenly Father who cares for us and a Saviour who loved us so much that he died for us. That is something to be thankful about!
Whether we have a lot or a little, gratitude arises out of our relationship with God. Paul says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks” (1 Thess 5:16-18). Again and again Paul would say in his letters, “abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:7).
We have come here in spite of our circumstances to give thanks to God for his love, forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life. We have come here because we recognise that God is at work in our lives giving us what we need from day to day. Today we are reminded that we have a loving heavenly Father who gives us our daily bread, even though we are sinful and don’t deserve it. Martin Luther has summed up God’s care and protection in the Small Catechism when he explains the first part of the Apostles’ Creed,I believe in God the Father almighty maker of heaven and earth. Let’s confess this together:
I believe that God has created me and everything that exists.
God has given me my body and soul
my mind and senses, and all my abilities,
and still takes care of them.
God also gives me everything I need from day to day –
things like food, clothes, home and family, work, and money.
God protects me from danger
and keeps me safe
when I am in trouble.
God does all this only because
he is my kind and loving Father;
I certainly do not deserve it.
All I can do is thank, praise, serve, and obey God.
This is most certainly true.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
© 2005 Pastor Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.