Turn Back to Praise: A Thanksgiving Meditation

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say:

Blessed be the name of the Lord; blessed be Your name.
Blessed be the name of the Lord; blessed be Your glorious name.

Songwriters: Beth Redman / Matt Redman  Blessed Be Your Name lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

“Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.” I’m sure most of us have, by now, sung these lyrics from Beth and Matt Redman’s worship song, “Blessed Be Your Name.” But I wonder how many of us have noticed the scriptural reference. It comes from Luke 17:15—which is part of the Revised Common Lectionary’s gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day.

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ (Luke 17:11-19, NRSV)

Jesus and his disciples are en route to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. As they travel this road, they come to a village. As they approach it, a group of 10 souls cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

They call from a distance, because they are lepers. They have a dreaded skin disease called leprosy—which means they are required to stay away from healthy people. They are forbidden to enter populated areas, lest anyone come into contact with their affliction. They are cut off from society, isolated from other people—and yet they are forced to beg for their food because they cannot carry on a trade of their own. As if the ravages of their awful disease are not bad enough … on top of it all, they are separated from their family and their friends and their way of life. They cannot earn a living. They cannot return to their homes for any reason.

Lepers were the ultimate outcasts.

Now, this particular group of 10 lepers includes not only Jews, but also at least one Samaritan. In a way, that’s remarkable, because—as a rule—Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with one another. They regarded one another with hostility and suspicion, because each group considered the other’s religious beliefs to be heretical.

But you know, it’s a true statement: misery loves company. This group is excluded from both sides of the border, so they have banded together. They’ve heard that Jesus is nearby—and they know that he is a healer. Likely, they’ve heard that this rabbi can cure leprosy. They want Jesus to heal them, too. Then they can return to their families, and start their lives over again. So they come to see Jesus. And they raise their voices together, crying out for help.

Now, on other occasions when Jesus healed lepers, he actually touched them and cured them on the spot. Not this time, however. Instead, he tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

He orders them to go to the temple in Jerusalem to be examined by the priests. Which, by the way, was how it worked. It was the priest who made the diagnosis of leprosy in the first place, and it was the priest who could declare the person cured. This is all laid out in the Book of Leviticus (chapters 13 and 14).

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They were probably taken aback by that. They could see that they still had leprosy. What if they went all the way to the temple just to be told once again that they were unclean? That would be awful. But they left for Jerusalem anyway.

It must have been a surprise when it happened. There they were on their way to Jerusalem, and suddenly … they realized that they were healed!

After they recovered from their shock, I imagine they must have started running toward Jerusalem—running as fast as they could, to be officially pronounced clean.

But one of them stopped. He turned around and ran back to Jesus. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him. And this one who “turned back” … he was a Samaritan.

When Jesus saw this, he said: “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

How come most of God’s people forgot to return and give thanks?

I wonder if Jesus is still asking that question today. Too often, we fail to give credit where credit is due. We are not the authors of our salvation. We are not the creators of our wealth. If it comes right down to it, we have to admit that we can do very little to sustain our own well-being.

We depend on God to send us helpers. Isn’t that true? Even at $100 a carton, we can’t stop smoking without help. I can’t even figure out my computer problems without help from someone one-third my age!

We often refer to our helpers as a “Godsend.” Yet how many of us remember to actually give thanks to God? How many of us are truly grateful to the One who has blessed us with so many good things?

I think that one of the reasons we set aside a special day to give thanks to God is precisely because we know that most of the time we take God’s providence for granted. If we were to count all our blessings (just like that much older gospel song says) it really would surprise us, what the Lord has done.

In North America, we enjoy freedoms that people in other parts of the world can only dream of. We can choose the people who govern us—an important freedom which I hope we will all exercise whenever we can. And of course, we are free to practice whatever religion we choose—another important freedom which is denied to many millions around the world.

And as for us Canadians, if we are sick or injured, we can expect to receive excellent health care without having to worry about how we’ll pay for it.

Then, of course, there is the abundance of the harvest. According to the Government of Saskatchewan’s crop report for this past week, 89 per cent of the harvest is now in the bin—which is ahead of average for this time of year.1 The Alberta crop report is almost as good.2

I wish the rest of the world was as fortunate. I’m told it remains true that we live in a world where enough food is grown to feed the entire planet—and yet millions still go hungry!

We have been greatly blessed, which is why we have a great responsibility to spread those blessings around. We who claim Jesus as Saviour and Lord—we who are the Church, the people of God—let us be the first to give thanks, instead of the last.

Let us be the first to remember the outcasts—the ones Jesus called “the least.”3 And let us be the first to respond to them in love. Especially in this world the way it is today … we have abundant opportunities to do just exactly that. So let’s do it; for Jesus’ sake.


1 www.saskatchewan.ca/business/agriculture-natural-resources-and-industry/agribusiness-farmers-and-ranchers/agricultural-programs-and-services/statistics-for-farmers-and-agribusiness/crops-statistics/crop-report

2 open.alberta.ca/dataset/539c1a3b-f4f4-439a-900c-e5fa5b74aa1b/resource/49ec46ae-40ea-4a89-812a-57bd09a595eb/download/AlbertaCropConditions-September-19-2017.pdf

3 See Matthew 25:31-46

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