Based on Deuteronomy 8. 7-18 & Luke 17: 11-19

Festivals to celebrate and give thanks for a bountiful harvest have been going on for millennia, as our reading from Deuteronomy attests.  It takes us back to around the 7th century BCE.  The excerpt we read today is an admonishment—a warning to the Israelites not to forget God’s goodness in providing them with the wonderful bounty of the Promised Land.  The writers of Deuteronomy had noticed that once people become prosperous and are comfortable with all the goods and treasures of their bountiful land, they can become quite complacent and forget where all “their” bounty has come from.  The Israelites’ promised land was “a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and…(fruit) tree(s) and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…”  Well, it could be Canada! The writers continue:  “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”  And in the ancient Israelite tradition, to bless God was to obey and respect God and God’s laws, to acknowledge and worship God as the Almighty One, the Lord of lords.  God is the Creator and thus provider of all and the writers warn us:  “Do not say to yourself ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’   Today we would put it this way:  I’ve worked hard for it, I deserve all that I worked for.  Instead, the writers remind us:  “…remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.”  (vs 17-18a)  And, you know, many of us do remember and acknowledge God, after a fashion.  We say we are thankful for God’s many blessings. 

 Thankful for God’s many blessings.  That phrase has been echoing around my head this week.  Let’s take a minute and explore it.  We do live in a land of ‘milk and honey’ and I daresay most of us have a pretty comfortable lifestyle!  And, I do appreciate that we have had to work hard for it too!  And we too are thankful to our ancestors who first came to this promised land of Canada—we really are so fortunate to live in this country, one of the best in the world. Which makes me wonder, do all the many good things we have, and take for granted– the lifestyle this country provides us, all the things we have, are these really God’s “blessings”?  Because if we consider ourselves blessed because of all the things we have and we able to do, what about those who don’t have these same advantages?  What about those who barely scrape by or live in poverty, or whose state of health—physical or mental is a huge barrier to being able to work, or who live in places full of corruption and scarcity, war and famine; does that mean then that they are less blessed?  For those with less, does that mean they’re less blessed, that God blesses some people more than others?   If our blessings, our possessions and comfortable lifestyle are a sign of God’s blessings, God’s goodness and love for us, does that mean God loves some people more than others?   No, that can’t be, because that goes completely against our Christian belief that God loves all of us unconditionally!

I’d like to propose an alternative way of thinking about these so-called ‘blessings’ and instead look upon them as privileges or advantages.  And yes, for reasons that are beyond our understanding, there have always been those who have many more privileges and advantages than others, even in this wealthy country.  So for those who really have the advantage of a comfortable lifestyle and disposable income, and all the privileges that go with that, yes we are of course most thankful.   But I’m not sure we should look upon them blessings! I guess the real question is, what do we do with all that we have?  How do we show that we really are thankful?  If we really believe, as the writer from Deuteronomy wrote:  “…remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” How do we use the bounty we have?  How do we use the power of our privilege for those less privileged?  As Christians, we go to our scriptures and ask what did Jesus teach?  A bit of biblical trivia for you, except for teachings about the Kingdom of God, Jesus spoke more about how we are to handle our wealth than anything else.  And since the time before the writing of Deuteronomy the faithful have been taught to share of their wealth, with those less advantaged, those who are less privileged.  Why?  Because what we have not really ours.  All things are of God including us and the abilities or talents we have been given. If we have more than we need and see others who are in need, it is simply giving back of our largess, sharing of the bounty we’ve accumulated, as God has shared the bounty of God’s creation with us.  Remember that old doxology we used to sing back in the day?  “All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”[1]  We show our thanks to God by giving back, by sharing from what God so graciously has given us. 

Our gospel reading for today is an interesting story of thanksgiving.  Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, and just outside a village, he comes upon a group of ten men with leprosy.  Leprosy at this time was a dreaded disease; incurable and considered very contagious.  Fear of the disease spreading from person to person resulted in people with leprosy being exiled, expelled from their home communities.   That’s why they called out to Jesus from a distance.  And we thought Covid restrictions were difficult!   I suspect that it was the disease and having to leave their homes that brought these ten men together as a small community of their own, and the fact that one was a Samaritan wasn’t really important, they were bound together by their illness.  They called out:  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus’ response is immediate:  “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  It was the priests who would ensure the spots on their skin were gone, only the priests could pronounce them healed, allowing them to return to their homes and families.  It didn’t matter to Jesus who was of what ethnic origin.  He sees ten men needing to be ‘made clean’ of this disease, and full of compassion, knew he could heal them, and so he did.  But only the Samaritan man, the rival to the Jews, only he returned to thank Jesus.  Is it possible that it was the very acceptance this Jewish healer offered him that made the healing even more meaningful for him?

 Did the other nine maybe take their healing for granted?  After all Jesus was known as a healer; that was his job.  Or maybe in the excitement of being healed, of being able to go back to a normal life, maybe they just forgot to say thank you.  Although they believed in Jesus’ ability to heal them, they didn’t seem to appreciate the full extent of who Jesus was and what he could truly give them, what true faith in Jesus could bring them.  The Samaritan who returned to Jesus came “praising God with a loud voice” (vs15) and “He prostrated himself at Jesus feet and thanked him.”   The original Greek words that are used are very interesting.   The word used for giving thanks is “eucharistō”[2]; which is of course, the origin of the word Eucharist.   That’s what we do when we participate in Holy Eucharist, partake of Holy Communion, we are giving thanks to God for the gift of Jesus.  Every Eucharistic prayer has words of thanksgiving in it!

The Samaritan man turned back to “eucharisto”, to give thanks to Jesus for his healing.  “In Luke, as in the New Testament in general, ‘turning around’ (or in this case ‘turning back’ as it is translated) is a description for the believer’s reaction to Jesus’ work. …  It describes a movement of the whole person, initiated by God’s graceful work, a redirection of orientation toward God.  Jesus’ words, ‘your faith has made you well’ (v.19) refer therefore, not just to the medical healing the Samaritan has experienced, but to the holistic healing of the (whole) being.” [3]The phrase “made you well” literally translated from the Greek, means “saved you”.   Within his healing, the Samaritan man recognized the power of God, come to him through Jesus’ healing of him.  Not just his body, but his soul was saved, he was made completely whole.  He knew then who Jesus really was, one through whom the full grace of God flowed.  And he fell at Jesus’ feet in “eucharisto”, in thanksgiving.  It was a true “attitude of gratitude”.[4]  So not just thankfulness, but an awareness, a full, deep and soulful appreciation that what he had received was a gift from God.  He fell at Jesus’ feet praising God, overwhelmed with the power of God within Jesus, and flowing within him,  feeling a profound sense of the magnitude of God’s grace and love—even though he was an outcast leper and a Samaritan.  It was for him a conversion experience.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving Weekend is that you “remember the Lord your God, for it is (God) who gives you power to get wealth.”  (Deut 8: 17) Do take some time in prayer and reflection, and I hope that you will experience the same sense of awe, wonder and thankfulness to God, for all the privilege and advantages you have, all the wealth and bounty from God’s amazing creation.  And may you too feel a true sense of ‘eucharisto’.  Amen

Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] from I Chronicles 19.13 

[2] Margrit Ernst-Habib in Theological Perspective for Luke 17. 11 -19 in Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol 4 p. 168


[4] Karoline Lewis in Dear Working Preacher commentary. accessed Oct. 9, 19