“And he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.” Luke 17:16
This Samaritan was a leper, one of ten who cried out to Jesus for mercy as He entered a village on His way to Jerusalem. Ten were healed. Only the Samaritan turned back and gave glory to God and thanks to Jesus. His response is a model for us this Thanksgiving in two ways.
First, he gave glory to God. He recognized a truth James expressed in his letter: “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17).
Every good gift you have, every gleam of grace, comes from your heavenly Father who loves, sustains, and guides you. You have nothing good from your own hand. Lincoln, in inaugurating Thanksgiving as a national holiday, warned “We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and have vainly imagined in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.” He certainly could turn a phrase, couldn’t he? Let’s heed the warning and remember to be thankful to God this Thursday and every day of the week.
What is interesting to me today though is that thanking God is often the only Thanksgiving we engage in. Thank God, of course, but let’s also acknowledge regularly that God usually operates through an agent. That’s right. He seldom brings “the good endowment” to you without using a middle man (or woman), and that brings us to the second lesson from the Samaritan leper: he thanked the agent of the blessing. To be fully thankful we need to include abundant thanksgiving to all the people God has used to bless us.
William Stidger was a minister during the first half of the 20th century, and during the dark times of The Depression sought for something positive and uplifting to share with his people. As he considered the matter, Stidger said it was like the Spirit of God spoke to him: "Why don't you give thanks to those people who have been a blessing in your life and affirm them during this terrible time?"
As he considered it, the memory came to him of a very dear schoolteacher, a wonderful teacher of poetry and English literature from years ago who had gone out of her way to put a great love of literature and verse in him, particularly the poems of Tennyson. It affected all his writings and his preaching.
So he sat down and wrote a letter to this now very elderly woman. In a matter of days he received her reply in the feeble scrawl of the aged. "My Dear William: I can't tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my eighties, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of autumn lingering behind. You'll be interested to know that I taught in school for more than fifty years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has done in many years."
I’ve always loved that story for the image of that elderly teacher and the joy that a brief note brought to her. It reminds me that the Greek word for thanksgiving or thankfulness is built on the same root as the word for grace. In thanking people you are “gracing” them. I am certain God smiles when we return some of the grace He gave us to the person He first used to “grace” us.
Be thankful to God this Thursday, and every day of course, but also be thankful for all the people He has used to make you who you are. By sharing thanksgiving, the blessing reverberates, and the grace is passed back and forth among thankful people.
Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for you!
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 21, 2010