Responding to Mercy: gratitude

tenlepers15 And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; 16 and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? 18 Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” 19 Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

The Samaritan fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.  Some might argue that it reads too much into the posture to say that it is an act of worship (although I think that is a fair reading of Luke) – but in any event, is it an act of humility.  St. Bonaventure, sometimes referred to as the second founder of the Franciscan friars, wrote in his work The Tree of Life that humility is the guardian and gateway of all the other virtues and that gratitude is its first evidence.

While it is easy to become focused on the miracle, perhaps the more important lesson is the response from one who has been touched with God’s mercy.[1]  Among the lepers there is the one, the Samaritan, who recognizes that God has acted through Jesus and thus he glorifies God (v.15). Glorifying God is a common response to manifestations of God’s saving work in Luke (2:20; 5:25-26; 7:16; 13:13; 18:4; 23:47) – and so returns to Jesus in gratitude. Gratitude may be the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals something also – perhaps a high degree of self-centeredness or a sense that we deserve more than we have received – thus there is no need to be grateful.

Culpepper (Luke, 328) writes:

This story also challenges us to regard gratitude as an expression of faith. At the end, Jesus says to the Samaritan, “You faith has saved you.” That faith was expressed not primarily in the leper’s collective cry for help, but in the Samaritan’s act of recognition and cry of grateful praise. Only his “loud voice” of praise matched the leper’s raised voices to call out for help at the beginning of the story.

In what sense, then, is gratitude an expression of faith? Does gratitude follow from faith? Or is gratitude itself an expression of faith? If gratitude reveals humility of spirit and a sensitivity to the grace of God in one’s life, then is there any better measure of faith than wonder and thankfulness before what one perceives as unmerited expressions of love and kindness from God and from others?  Are we self-made individuals beholden to no one, or are we blessed daily in ways we seldom perceive, cannot repay, and for which we often fail to be grateful? Here is a barometer of spiritual health: If gratitude is not synonymous with faith, neither response to God is separable from the other. Faith, like gratitude, is our response to the grace of God as we have experienced it. For those who have become aware of God’s grace, all of life is infused with a sense of gratitude, and each encounter becomes an opportunity to see and to respond in the spirit of the grateful leper.


[1] The lepers calls out eleésōn hema which the NAB translates as “have pity on us.”  Virtually all other modern translations translate the passage as “have mercy on us,”  given that the primary meaning of eleéō is “to show mercy.”


Notes

Luke 17:15 glorifying God in a loud voice:  Throughout Luke-Acts this is held as the proper response to the working of a miracle (5:25-26; 7:16; 13:13; 18:43; Acts 4:21; 11:18; 13:48)

Luke 17:16 he fell at the feet of Jesus: Luke also uses such acts of prostration as a proper response (5:12; 7:38; 8:35, 41; 10:39) to God’s gracious intervention. and thanked him: What is unusual in this verse is the presence of eucháristōn. This forms a triptych: giving glory to God, taking a posture of submission (or worship?) and then thanking the one who is the object of the glory and worship.  He was a Samaritan: In the parable of the Good Samarian the foreigner is the example of Godly love and mercy. Here the Samaritan is the foreigner who is the exemplar of faith.

Luke 17:17 foreigner: This is the only place in the NT that the word allogenḗs is used.  The same word was used in an inscription in the temple in Jerusalem: “no foreigner is to enter.” The same word was used in the Septuagint in laws that forbade outsiders from coming near the tabernacle, with a penalty of death for those who did (Numbers 1:51; 3:10, 38; 16:40; 18:4, 7; Ezekiel 44:7, 9).

Sources

  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 257-62
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p. 967
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 274-76
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 615-27
  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 324-28
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985)
    Büschel, allogenḗs, 1:264–67
    Michaelis, lépra / leprós 4:233–34
  • Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament  : Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989)
    sozo, Vol. 2:240
  • Scripture –  quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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