Text: Luke 17:11-19
Prayer of the day: Almighty God, You show great mercy to Your people in all their troubles. Grant us always to recognise Your goodness, give thanks for Your compassion, and praise Your holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
I watched a funny video a few weeks ago of people getting picked up by ride-sharing companies like Uber and things like that and being driven to their destinations. Unlike regular old taxis, when you go with these ride-sharing companies you never really know who you will get as a driver, they are just regular people in regular cars. At least that’s what you’d expect. In this video I watched the people who called for a ride were being picked up and driven around by National Basketball League all-star and hall of famer Shaquille O’Neil. Shaquille O’Neil or “Shaq” is a huge man (6’9”, 325lbs) and he has an even larger personality. Shaquille O’Neil is someone that most people would recognise pretty easily, but as he came to pick these people up he was disguised with wigs, fake glasses, mustaches, and stuff like that. No one recognised him, at least not right away. Towards the end of their trips some people started to catch on, but most people didn’t figure it out until the wigs and the rest of the disguises came off. Then, when the recognized Shaquille O’Neil and realized who had been driving them around, they got very excited. Some screamed and laughed, other pulled out phones to take a selfie, and others asked for an autograph. But until they figured it out is just seemed like an ordinary ride across town. If they didn’t recognise him it didn’t mean anything.
I was thinking about this video this week because our gospel reading today is all about recognising Jesus. The reading we have today is perfect for thanksgiving Sunday, we heard about Jesus healing ten men who had leprosy. According to Old Testament laws people with leprosy had to live outside of town. They could not live in their homes or with their families, they had to stay outside the camp or the town. So these ten lepers had grouped together in a kind of leper colony, it seems, and they lived outside of a town. When these men saw Jesus coming into their town they call out to Him because they have heard about Jesus and know the kind of healings that He has done before. They see a glimmer of hope here, a chance at healing and salvation, and they call out to Jesus saying, “Have mercy on us!” Jesus, of course, is full of mercy for sinful broken people like us, so when they called on Him asking for mercy Jesus does not disappoint. He looks at them, has mercy on them, and tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.
Whenever a person who had leprosy got better that was the thing to do. If you wanted to get let back into the community and be allowed to go home again you needed to go to the priest so that he could make sure you were better and offer the proper sacrifices to God giving thanks and making you spiritually clean and forgiven. So these men, still not healed of their leprosy, set off to go see the priest full of hope that they will be healed. Along the way that is exactly what happens, all of a sudden they were healed.
Nine of those men continued on to go show themselves to the priest. They were healed, they were clean, they were going to get to go home again! Imagine how excited they must have been. One of them, however, turned around. He went back to Jesus fell down at His feet and praised God that he had been made well. Ten were healed, but only one gave thanks to Jesus.
Our first reaction might be to think that this is a story about how we should be more thankful. Those nine lepers did not bother to come and thank Jesus and we should be like that one who did, but there is nothing here that says that the other nine were not thankful. I’m sure they were very thankful for what had happened to them, they went to the priest, arranged for the various sacrifices and ceremonies to take place and, in doing so, gave thanks to God for what He had done for them. This is not a story about how some people are thankful and others are not. Instead, this is a story about recognising Jesus.
That is the difference between the one formerly leprous man and the other nine who do not come back to Jesus. Those nine do not recognise who Jesus is. When these men look at Jesus they don’t see the Son of God, they don’t see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they don’t recognise Jesus. And, because they don’t recognise Jesus, they go elsewhere to give thanks to God. But this one man does recognise Jesus. When he has been healed he goes back to Jesus, praises God in a loud voice and falls down at Jesus’ feet. He goes back to Jesus to praise God. By faith this man recognises that Jesus is the Son of God. He recognises that Jesus is the source of this wonderful blessing that He has received. He recognises Jesus.
This is a remarkable thing. This man has tremendous faith to believe this about Jesus. John tells us in the beginning of his gospel when he talks about Jesus coming into the world that, “He was in the world and the world was made by Him, but the world did not recognise Him.” The world does not recognise Jesus. Our own sinful hearts and minds, by their own reason or strength, can’t recognise Jesus. Even though the entire world was made through Him as God spoke the world into being this sinful, fallen world does not recognise Jesus as He comes into the world. Even as Jesus does miracles like the one we read about today, the world does not recognise Him. Nine out of the ten do not recognise who Jesus is and they do not return to give thanks to Him.
After Jesus rises from the dead there is a remarkable story about how people finally come to recognise who He is. Jesus joins two of His disciples on the road as they are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As Jesus walks with them they do not recognise who He is and they tell Him about everything that happened that weekend as Jesus was crucified and died. Jesus starts to teach them that this is what the Bible always said needed to happen, but they still don’t recognise Him. But finally, as they sit down for meal together and Jesus breaks bread their hearts and eyes are opened to see and believe who Jesus really is. During supper Jesus takes bread and, when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples just like He did with them on the night when He was betrayed and arrested, in the Last Supper, the first Communion service, their eyes are opened and they recognise Jesus. The Holy Spirit is at work here opening hearts and eyes so that we recognise Jesus.
On our own we cannot recognise Jesus or even begin to comprehend what He has done for us. Our sinful minds just can’t see it or understand it. That’s why in the collect of the day we prayed in the collect of the day today asking God out of His great mercy to grant us the ability to “always recognise Your goodness.” Only God can open our eyes to understand His goodness, to recognise what He has done for us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
But it doesn’t just stop there either, the prayer goes on. After asking God to help us recognise His goodness we asked God to help us “give thanks for His compassion and praise His holy name.” When we recognise who Jesus is and what He has done for us thanksgiving and praise naturally flow from that. Just like the riders who went crazy when the recognised Shaquille O’Neil as their driver, when our eyes are opened to see and understand who Jesus is all we can do is give thanks and praise Him. That is what that one leper did. By the work of God in him he recognised Jesus and all he could do was return to give thanks.
This is important for us to consider on a day like today, a day when our focus is on giving thanks in so many different ways. Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily a Christian holiday. People all over our country are giving thanks today, Christians and non-Christians alike. But there is a difference between how Christians give thanks and how non-Christians give thanks. Better yet, there is a difference between who Christians give thanks to and who non-Christians give thanks to. As Christians we have a God to whom we give thanks forever, but we don’t just give thanks to God. Anyone can give thanks to God and lots of people do, but we give thanks to Jesus because we recognise Jesus as the Son of God our Saviour who took all of our sin in His body on the cross and rose victorious to save us from death. We give thanks to Him because He has healed us from our sinful disease and rescued us from death. We give thanks to Him because we were leprous sinners outside the Kingdom of God but He has made us clean so that we can enter and rejoice in that Kingdom.
What a blessing it is to recognise Jesus and know His salvation for us. May we recognise day by day the goodness of our God who has given us His Son and thank and praise Him always for He has had mercy on us. Amen.