In Luke 17 we are told of how Jesus heals ten lepers. Of these ten only one, a Samaritan, returns and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16). The other nine are missing, causing Jesus to ask ““Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”” (Luke 17:17-18)
Where are the other nine? Why aren’t they also at Jesus’ feet? Where is their thankfulness for what has been done? To understand the enormity of what had happened some context is needed. In Jewish custom if you were a leper you were an outcast. Leprosy spread by contact so you had to live on the outskirts of society, avoiding all contact with your family and former friends. You had to ring a bell to announce your presence and shout out a warning of “Unclean”. Leprosy caused terrible skin blemishing, the loss of sensation and the eventual loss of fingers and toes. Throughout the Old Testament it is associated with punishment for sin. Should you somehow get cured you had to present yourself to a priest who would authorise you as clean. That is where the ten healed lepers had gone after Jesus healed them, and only one returned.Out of the ten who had been freed from this terrible condition, only one comes back. Only one expresses his thankfulness. Only one gives glory to God for what has happened. And that one was a Samaritan, not even one of God’s chosen people.
It is easy for us to be shocked at that. With the benefit of hindsight we can be amazed at the lack of gratitude shown by the other nine. Yet how thankful are we? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Be thankful in all circumstances. Quite the challenge. Sure we can be thankful when things are good, when the sun is shining down on us, when the barns are full and the craic is mighty. But when the road is marked with suffering? When there is pain in the offering? When things aren’t going our way? When the test comes back positive? When the bank calls looking repayments? When the office has to downsize? When a careless driver goes into the back of your car? Thankful in all circumstances? Really? It’s not easy.
I don’t have quick fixes for being thankful in tough circumstances. I don’t have a magic formula. But I know we need to establish a habit of thankfulness is times of the good to see us through the darker times. I know we need to be thankful for the small mercies God gives us, rather than taking them for granted. I know we need to have faith that He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I know it isn’t easy, but then Jesus never promised us it would be. He did promise He would be with us through it though.
We can take encouragement from the example of Horiato Spafford. You may not have heard of him. He lived from 1828-1888 and was a wealthy Chicago lawyer and Christian. His youngest son died when he was in the prime of his professional career, and soon after the Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed almost all of his property. In 1873 he planned a trip to Europe as a holiday for his family, however at the last minute he got caught up in business so sent his wife and daughters on a boat ahead of him. Several days later he got news that that boat had had a collision, and his four daughters had died and only has wife had survived. He then got a boat over to England to be with his grieving wife. On that boat journey he wrote down some of his thoughts. You’ll probably recognise them. On that boat journey, after suffering so much loss this is what he wrote:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Even so, it is well with my soul. Whatever circumstances you are in the midst of today, be it joy or sadness, hope or despair know that there is One who can bring peace. One who can bring comfort. One who shed His own blood for your soul. In the midst of the sorrow we can be thankful that we have a Saviour who walks with us through the fire, upholding us in His victorious hand, that same hand that placed the stars in the sky and took the nails for our sin. Be thankful for that in whatever circumstances today.