What is it that you’re thankful for? Off the top of your head, you might not be able to think of anything. Then again, you might think of many things to be grateful for. In just a few minutes, we’ll say together the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed and its Explanation. There, Luther elaborates on everything that God grants to us “to support this body and life.” If there is anything to be thankful for, Luther does a good job summing it up for us: body and soul, eyes, ears, members, reason, senses, clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, home, wife, children, land, animals, and all that we have. So I ask the question again: what is it that you’re thankful for?
Now let me ask you another question. Have you ever done something for someone else, whether it be big or small, and the person showed no appreciation? I imagine that you were probably disappointed, possibly even angered by it. Luke records for us an instance of that same kind that happened to Jesus: ten leprous men who were healed, but only one returns and gives thanks. Jesus asks the man, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”
How often are we like the nine instead of the one? How often are we too busy to say thanks for the many blessings that God has granted to us? As we celebrate Thanksgiving, it is only fitting to remember to give thanks and praise to God for His wonderful gifts.
In looking at our text, we see the ten lepers and they cry out to Jesus from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” This was their faith in action, crying out to Jesus for mercy, compassion, healing. It was a cry that fulfilled all of their needs and not just leprosy. If a person was a leper, they were ceremonially unclean and they were ostracized from the community until they were ceremonially clean again. This meant separation from their family, their home, everything. Seeing Jesus, they knew what they needed. For them, Jesus was their only means of being made clean once again.
Jesus sends them to the priests, the one place where they would be cleared clean and able to return to normal living once again. As they went to the priests, they were cleansed of their leprosy. What a cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing! However, there was one problem: only one came back to Jesus, only one remembering who it was that had healed him. Only one of the ten showed any sort of signs of thanksgiving and rejoicing. This one man, a Samaritan, was thankful for what Jesus had shown to him.
Now after all of that, you might be asking yourself what does this account have to do with Thanksgiving. What does it have to do with turkey and all the fixings, with pumpkin pie and football? The answer is that it has nothing to do with turkey, pie, and football. What it does have to do with is true thanksgiving to God.
Today, many people give thanks for the material blessings that they have. Even people who normally have little or nothing to do with God will invoke His name and say, “Thank you.” But once Thanksgiving Day is over, will they continue thanking God? Better yet, will you continue thanking God?
We tend to do better at asking God rather than thanking God. At times, it seems we put God on a string, like a puppet. We want God to do this and do that for us. We ask God for our daily bread, but often forget to thank God when we get it.
You and I have many reasons to be thankful. Consider again the ten lepers from our text. Jesus healed all ten, yet only one recognized the Healer behind the healing; only one recognized the Giver behind the gift. He believed not only that God had healed him, but also that this God was Jesus. The foreigner believed and returned to thank and praise Jesus for the gift of healing.
Jesus has not healed you from leprosy, but He has healed you from something infinitely greater than leprosy: your sin. Jesus died on the cross to deliver you from the diseases of sins, death, and the devil. You and I have been healed from this disease. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness won by Christ on His cross was applied to each of us. There, God called us by name, placed His name upon us and forgave us all of our sins. That is more than enough reason to give thanks and praise to God!
So again I’ll ask you: what are you thankful for? There is almost too much to count. We have all of our material blessings. We have the privilege of being called children of God. We have the wonderful gift of the forgiveness of our sins. For all this and more, we cry out with the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.