I am quite sure that we have heard the story of the ten lepers plenty of times. The point of the parable is fairly obvious. Ten lepers were healed. Only one stopped, returned, and gave thanks to God and to Jesus for the miracle of healing. The one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. We all know by now that as a class of people Samaritans were the sworn enemies of the Jewish people. Yet it is the Samaritan among them who returns to give thanks, while the others appear to have taken their healing for granted: going to the priests to show that they had been cleansed, perhaps; maybe striking out to make up for lost time. And we’ve heard it all before, so why is it that we need to be reminded of it yet again?
We need to hear it again because it is human nature to forget to be grateful. The gratitude that might be in our hearts becomes eroded over time with the press and demands of daily life. We come to take things for granted, and when we do, we tend to treat persons, places and things that ought to be of great value to us first with familiarity, and eventually with contempt. It is curious to me: human nature is that we tend to devalue things in the light of our fundamental discontent; yet to be fully human, and to treat one another as fully human, means to treat persons, places and things as though they were great, priceless and irreplaceable treasures.
The foundational moment of the spiritual life comes when one realized that all that one is, and all that one has is a gift from Almighty God. The unspoken assumption, the often unarticulated premise behind worship and liturgy is that we gather to give thanks. It is fundamental that the word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.
It is foundational that the whole point of the awareness and confession of sin is to stir up in us a sense of thanksgiving for all that the Lord Jesus has done for us.
It is foundational and no accident that the Canon of the Mass begins with that dialogue between the priest and people known as the Sursum Corda. “Lift up your hearts/We lift them to the Lord/ It is right and good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, the Father Almighty.”
Now although we all ought to know that by now, yet, we all need the reminder that we gather as the expression of thanksgiving: it is always and everywhere right to give thanks to the Father Almighty because we acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from God. So it follows therefore that stewardship is an act of thanksgiving. To be sure, our giving is out of the necessity of preserving the wonderful heritage that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord. To be sure, our giving is out of the necessity of running the joint, as a sometime vestry member once put it.
But the bottom line theologically is that our giving is an expression of thanksgiving, and we would do well to ask ourselves whether our giving to the Church is an adequate expression of our thankfulness to God for what he has given us.
So as it has always been, there is the practical side to what we do at this time of year. But there is also the spiritual dimension and that dimension is that we need the opportunity learn again what it is to be thankful and to have our hearts filled with gratitude.