SERMON It’s Okay to Be Ungrateful

A reading from the Gospel according to Luke, the 17th chapter.

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11–19 ESV)

Gratitude. We’re told to cultivate it. The Samaritan here has it, and in many ways, that cultivation of gratitude — give thanks to God for all God has done for you — is a central message of both the Bible and the Qur’an.

God has provided for you. Isn’t it better that you thank God for that provision?

So the Samaritan here, the foreigner, the nonbeliever, here is possessed of the right attitude. After all, Jesus commanded them all to go show themselves to the priest to do as commanded in Leviticus 14 when a leper (really, anyone suffering any kind of skin ailment) is finally cleansed. And it is likely the Samaritan had no priest nearby to resent himself to (though the Samaritan had a ritual of some kind based in Leviticus, since the Samaritans had the Torah; a different Torah, but a Torah). So it makes sense the Samaritan would turn back and thank Jesus.

He likely has no other easy option.

And yes, it is good to be grateful, to thank God, to remember that Christ himself wondered why the other nine healed lepers, likely all Judeans, did not come back to praise God and thank Jesus?

But note this — those other nine were still healed. They still walked away to do as the Torah commanded them (though we don’t know if that’s what they actually did). They did not thank Jesus or praise God. I’m guessing their faith did not make them well as it did with the Samaritan, or with the Centurion in Luke 7.

The most faithful and amazing responses to God’s unearned grace we will find among those we least expect it — foreigners, outcasts, occupiers, those we have rejected. Those who cannot rely on their patrimony as the People of Abraham, recipients of the promise, to show they are entitled to an inheritance, to the blessings of God.

However, it’s okay to be ungrateful too. For the sun rises and shines on the those who are good and those who are evil, and it rains on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45) We should be grateful — it’s better when we are — but we are the recipients of God’s grace whether we know it or not and whether we pay it back with worship and gratitude.

Like the Samaritan, we worship because we have encountered Jesus and we know we have to do something — to grovel, to adore, to give even a little something of ourselves back to show we understand who we have met and what that means for us and for the entire world.

But we don’t have to. We don’t have to.

It is okay to walk away, to do — or not — only as much as the law requires. God is still at work, still healing, still teaching, still pronouncing forgiveness and healing to lost and broken world. Whether or not the world gives thanks, pays any attention, or even knows that God is in its midst.

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