I Deserve It! - Some Reflections on II Kings 5:1-3, 7-15 / St. Luke 17:11-19
There is a current TV ad for a car rental company which has a well dressed young executive walking through an airport talking and going out to the parking lot. When he gets there he picks a nice car, looks at the camera and says: "I deserve it?" I always want to yell at the screen - "Why?" Why do you deserve this car, why do you think you "deserve" anything? This seems to be a theme in our society - entitlement. We think we "deserve" this and that, and lots of money and a nicer house than we can afford and a fancy car and a pretty generic family and no debt or illness or anything else. And when hard times hit, then we get angry - "it isn't fair; I don't deserve this!" We get angry with our job, or politicians or with God because things aren't for us the way they are supposed to be. Or we find others to scapegoat - it's those politicians, the president, the free-loading poor, the immigrants, anyone and everyone who is different than us. It is their fault that things are this bad, and doggone it, I don't deserve this!
In our readings for today the Old Testament and the Gospel stories are very similar. Both stories recount a healing, but at the core of both stories lay issues of gratitude and grace. In our Old Testament story we hear of a wealthy and powerful general who is suffering from a skin disease. This is a man of entitlement and his behavior displays this "I deserve it" attitude throughout the story. When he finally stands in front of the tent (cave?) of the Prophet and receives his instructions he throws a fit because he wasn’t received appropriately. The prophet didn’t even come out to meet him directly and simply sends a message to him: go wash in the Jordan River seven times. What is the deal? Naaman was expecting a little more attention. Maybe the prophet could at least make a sacrifice and come out and do a dance and some hocus pocus. Namaan didn’t deserve this! And he is just about ready to go away in a huff when his servants (tactfully) prevail upon him to just give it a try, go and follow the prophet’s instructions. He does so (reluctantly) and he is healed. He is healed, not because he deserves it. He is healed because of the grace of God – only! Finally he recognizes this and returns to the prophet to offer thanks to God (and maybe an apology?).
In the story from Luke, Jesus, like Elisha, heals in a very quiet unobtrusive way. In this story there are 10 lepers. When they realize they have been healed they all run off to get started on their new life. Life has been hard up until now, and they didn't deserve that, so now they are entitled to get on with their lives. So, all run away in excitement. All, that is, but one – one of the men returns to Jesus to say Thank you. And we learn from Jesus that while they were all healed, it is only this one who has been made completely whole, this one who has received salvation. Why, because it is only this one who has room for gratitude, and thus only this one who has faith.
Is it possible to have faith without gratitude? I suppose it depends on how you define faith. If faith is just a list of propositions that you believe or if faith is a mental attitude towards certain events or things then perhaps it is possible. But that is not how faith is defined in the bible. In the bible faith is manifest in action. One doesn’t just believe a list of things in the bible, faith is demonstrated by the way one lives and the way one acts. The disciples all demonstrate their lack of faith when they run and hide when Jesus is arrested; the women followers of Jesus demonstrate their strong faith in their willingness to stand vigil at the cross and care for the body and go to the tomb. Faith is action, and gratitude is an important part of faith. It is the part that gives faith life, or a spark or even a sparkle.
These stories today call us to faith and gratitude! Thank you Lord for all that you have given to me; thank you Lord that despite the fact that even though I do not deserve it you nevertheless love me and have reached out to me in grace and love and that you continue to stand with me throughout everything. These stories encourage us to take stock of what it is that we are grateful for and then to take the time to give thanks.