Friday 30 October 2020

Grateful Notice

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.

—Luke 17:15-16

Since Thanksgiving Day on October 12, my thoughts have often turned to the very idea of gratitude. Perhaps due to my philosopher’s tic, I have found myself asking, ‘what is gratitude, really?’ What is happening in us and through us when we find ourselves grateful for something? Why, moreover, do we find it important to stop and reflect upon what we are grateful for? 

In that perplexity, I have been struck again by the story of the Samaritan who turns back to thank Jesus for the healing he experiences. Why don’t the nine others do the same? One thing that I think is happening in this story is that Luke is trying to get us to notice the noticers, even and especially when they belong to groups we callously dismiss as not mattering. The healed Samaritan is such a noticer: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back….” Were the other nine simply ungrateful, then, or might they have actually failed to notice that they had been healed?

While I’m not going to argue for that latter reading, necessarily, I do think it is interesting to entertain its possibility, for it sets up rather nicely the answer that Jesus gives to the Pharisees, recorded right after this story, when they ask him when he thinks the kingdom of God will come. To recall, Jesus gives the enigmatic answer that the kingdom cannot be observed, for it is already “among you” (vs. 21). But why, if it is already among us, do we have so much trouble noticing, or observing it? Why can’t we, like the Samaritan, notice when we are in the midst of healing and the possibility of being healed?

Jesus, as Luke portrays him in this chapter, wants his followers to become noticers like the Samaritan. That is why turning back in gratitude is such an important spiritual exercise: it accustoms us to notice, and even expect, God’s redeeming work in our midst. For healing to become actual, we must notice—with the ‘eyes’ of faith, or the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11)—that God’s healing power is at work among us and thus available to us. Recall Jesus’s words to the Samaritan, lying prostrate at his feet: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (vs. 19).

In the spirit of the healed Samaritan, today I turn back to you and say, ‘Thank you for keeping faith with us!’ As we journey in faith together, may we both notice and become agents of God’s healing possibility—for each other and for everyone else.

Shalom, my friends!

Ronald A. Kuipers