Choosing Thanksgiving!

Live Audio File

12th. Sun. of Luke   Dec. 10, 2023;   Luke 17: 12-19; 

Today we have the lesson of the 10 Lepers. Leprosy represents sin. We have many references in the Old Testament. Aaron’s sister Miriam being covered with Leprosy for criticizing Moses for taking on his Ethiopian wife Tharbis, Naman the Syrian army commander being healed from his Leprosy when in humility and obedience to Elisa he bathed in the Jordan 7 times, King Uzziah proudly and without any permission or authority burning incense in the Temple and being struck with Leprosy. We have an even clearer connection in St. John Chrysostom’s communion prayers, “O Lord my God, be pleased to enter into the house of my soul, humble and leprous and sinful.” The connection is very clear. Leprosy equals sin.

The point is of course that we are all Leprous sinners. This realization is a fundamental 1st step to growing closer to Christ and His truth and light. We Lepers begin the transition to health in the very same manner as our 10 Lepers today. Crying out to Christ for His healing and mercy and then actively pursuing the kingdom of God. Going to see the priests and being received back into the kingdom of God through repentance, confession and thanksgiving and giving God the glory! Christ sent the 10 Lepers to the priests to obey the law of Moses, which was of course only a foreshadowing of the reality of the fullness of Christ, the lawgiver Himself healing all. In the Old Testament, there was a very elaborate inspection process entrusted to the Priests to accept healed Lepers back into the community. (Psalm 51) “Cleanse me with Hyssop and I shall be clean.” If you passed inspection you were quarantined in isolation for 7 days and then brought back into the community on the eighth day with the Priest’s blessing. Christ fulfilled everything. The Old Testament is full of types and foreshadowing’s of Christ and His kingdom.

Of the 10 Lepers whom Christ sends to the Priests, the nine Jewish Lepers do not return to give Him thanks for their healing. Only the Samaritan – the heretic hated by the Jews – recognizes that here is Christ the Messiah, and returns to give thanks and glorify God. The nine Jewish ungrateful healed Lepers represent a tragic reality, a lack of appreciation and thankful spirit from the very people who are in the “inner circle,” who should most of all know better and be appreciative. Our salvation history from the beginning through to the most glorious birth of the Theotokos and ultimately the birth of Christ, all came through the Jewish race. Christ Himself told the Samaritan woman at the well, the future St. Photini, that (John 4:22) “…salvation is of the Jews.” In today’s gospel passage we see yet another Samaritan heretic get it right, and the other nine who were of God’s chosen people – the inner circle – completely miss it.

This should be a very sobering revelation to us here in the Holy Orthodox Church. As Orthodox Christian’s we are members of the “inner circle.” We trace the birth of the Orthodox Church and her teachings in an unbroken line back to the day of Pentecost and the teaching of Christ to the 12 Apostles. We have faithfully protected the fullness of this original faith, passing it on to every generation of the Church through 20 centuries now, in continuity without alteration. We are the Church which Christ established and which the gates of Hades will not withstand. Thank God, through His grace we have found refuge and are safe in the ark of the Church. But is this the goal, to just take refuge? To congratulate ourselves that we have found protection? How thankful are we? Did Christ only die for us? Do we take up our cross and with thanksgiving, co-suffer with Christ for the “life of the world?” This is the deeper lesson of today’s Gospel teaching.

The ultimate Christian response to every circumstance is to turn to Christ and choose thankfulness. Christ calls us to be thankful in all our circumstances. When we begin to be thankful at all times and in every situation, to choose to turn to Christ when the insanity of this world breaks in upon our privileged lives, we are fulfilling the essence of the Gospel. (1 Thess. 5:16-18) “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (John 16:33) “…in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Matt. 5:10) “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” (Rom. 8:28) “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Psalm 76:4) “I remembered God and was glad; I complained, and my spirit became discouraged.”

We demonstrate that we truly trust God in all things by offering Him thanksgiving and worship. We will be sure to encounter much suffering and tribulation as we are surrounded with a broken, sinful world, full of tragedy and death, and we ourselves, as broken human beings, create more of the same. This is not God’s doing, it is an inevitable result of living apart from Him and doing our own thing. God’s part is to somehow turn this horror into life and healing, by being with us in His love, always, in all of things. We all experience circumstances that are far from being loving, joyful, or peaceful. But somehow in the middle of all this mess, our required counter-culture response is to turn to God always with thanksgiving and worship.

The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the ultimate act of Christian worship. Eucharist means “Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving is a discipline, an action,  a continuous choice, not a warm fuzzy feeling. We are to “give” thanks, even when we are not able to “be” thankful. We may well tell God this particular circumstance is horrible, incomprehensible and can have no possible positive outcome – but we trust Him in all things and thank Him for it and His never-failing love. Thankfulness is the antidote to the sins of the flesh, anger, greed and avarice, envy, selfishness… St. John Chrysostom tells us “it is our duty to give thanks even for hell itself.” St. Siluoan tells us to “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” Of course, the Orthodox understanding of hell is at great variance to the Western Roman Catholic and Protestant description and understanding. More on that in a future homily!

As baby followers of Christ we start by thanking God for at least the things we are happy with. When we are blessed to have a meal, we give thanks. When things go well with us, and our families, and our friends, we give thanks. But as we mature in Christ, the goal is to give thanks in the middle of circumstances we can’t possibly comprehend. In sickness, tragedy, even in death, we turn to God for comfort, knowing that these circumstances are not the end of the story. That even death itself has been transformed into the entrance to true life. The final words of many of our most precious and holy saints were recorded to be “Glory to God for all things.” John Chrysostom said (Homily 19 to the Ephesians) “There is nothing so pleasing to God as for a man to be thankful.” May our hearts be filled with thanksgiving and worship as we grow ever closer to Christ, and may we join the Samaritan Leper who returned to give glory to God, and found his faith had made him well.               Glory to Jesus Christ!