Happy People vs. Miserable People
When you look around, some people are always miserable. It doesn’t matter if their circumstances are good or bad, there always seems to be something to complain about. But then there are other people, their circumstances may be good or bad, but whatever they’re going through, there always seems to be a smile on their face, and you sense a deeper happiness. What’s the difference between these two types of people? I believe it’s gratitude, when there is deep gratitude in someone’s life, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on in their lives, there seems to be a sense of joy and peace flowing through their life.
Today’s passage is a story of gratitude from the Samaritan man who was healed from leprosy. Lepers were people with various skin diseases. They were seen as contaminated and impure. It was a punishment for your sins. So they were physically and spiritually separated from the community. It’s why they kept their distance. Today, a doctor will heal someone and declare someone to be free of a disease. But in that setting, only a priest could declare that someone was clean, and thus able to reintegrate with the community. And this is why Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priests. But somehow, on their way there, they saw that they were healed. What would you do in this situation? I would probably have ran even faster to the priests. This was their chance to finally reintegrate into the community and live normal lives! And this is what all of them did, except for one: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself before Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” (Luke 17:15-16) Only one of the lepers turned back to thank Jesus. And a Samaritan at that. Samaritans were seen as dirty and impure by the Jews, but he was the only one to come back.
When we face difficult situations in life, we often look ahead. We look forward to see how we can escape those circumstances. Our life most often involves looking ahead to how we can better our circumstances. That’s why we study so hard, work so hard, think hard about what’s best for our kids, and plan diligently for our retirement. We are forward-looking people. And so the actions of the 9 other lepers was totally understandable. This was a chance to reintegrate into their communities. They were looking ahead. So what caused this one man to turn back? It came from his gratitude. He recognized where this healing came from. He recognized the goodness that God showed him. So before going forward to the priests, he turned back to Jesus, praising God and giving thanks. Jesus equated this gratitude with faith. He told the man: “Your faith has made you well.” It was not his healing from leprosy that made him well, nor was it reintegration into the community that made him well. In other words, it wasn’t his improved circumstance that made him well. It was his gratitude that made him well. The word used in the original Greek for “made well” is sesoken. This word is more literally translated as “saved”, “delivered” or “rescued”. Now that he was made well, Jesus said “get up and go on your way” to the priests.
Gratitude saves us, rescues us from despair. Gratitude makes us well. Not our circumstances. That is the secret that Jesus knew. This story takes place on the way to Jerusalem. In the gospel of Luke, the journey to Jerusalem represents the life of discipleship. And so, we see today that an essential ingredient of discipleship is gratitude. Not just that, I think that gratitude is an essential quality of being human. Gratitude is a unique characteristic of human beings. Other animals, there is devotion, sacrifice and even love, but gratitude is something that only humans really possess. It’s a unique gift given to human beings by God. To be uniquely human is to live with gratitude. Living a life of gratitude does something. Gratitude changes how we see things, and it changes what we see. You can have the exact same set of circumstances, but the one with gratitude will see the good things. Your eyes become opened to the goodness in life. Everything on the surface might appear bleak and hopeless, but the one with gratitude can see goodness pouring out of the cracks. Rev. Kim said it well in today’s Inner Voice: a thankful heart opens our heart. God pours His blessings into our open heart. When these blessings and goodness comes into our lives, it heals us and makes us well. My 2 year-old daughter Abby is at Sick Kids Hospital with Deb right now. On Friday evening, Deb was working, so I took my kids to my parents’ place. They were having a great time. My parents turned on the electric fireplace to keep the kids warm. Toward the end of the evening, Abby put her hands on the fireplace glass. She writhed in pain immediately after. She was in so much pain, and I was helpless to do anything about it. I took her to the hospital that night, and it turned out that she has first and second degree burns on her hands. Seeing her in such pain was heartbreaking. But then I saw how calm and composed she was, and I was so proud of her. The immediate circumstance was heartbreaking and worrisome, but I was able to see the deepened bond I felt for her, and my deepened devotion to my daughter. I was thankful for her good spirits and otherwise great health. In other words, I could still see the goodness in life.
The Orientation of Our Lives
If there’s one thing true about life, it’s that life is full of challenges and struggles. Buddhist philosophy has great wisdom – the beginning point for all reflection is to start with the truth that to live is to suffer. All of you are living so “열심히” which means so hard and diligently. College students, you work and strive so hard. All of you parents work so hard for your kids, worry so much about them, and feel their pain. All of you going through your own challenges, worries and stresses – life is endless toil in many ways. This is why sometimes we too need to cry out like the lepers did for Jesus to have mercy on us. Yes, when life gets difficult, our natural desire is to look forward toward better circumstances. But our call as human beings is to first turn back in gratitude, to see the goodness that is overflowing in life as well. How is your life oriented? Do you turn back to offer gratitude? Or do you only look forward to better circumstances?
Life of “Turning Back”
“Turning back” is a reorientation of our lives. Turning back with gratitude is what repentance truly is. Gratitude is a way of life, it is something we all can do. Like anything else, it does require practice. Gratitude is like a muscle. If we exercise it, it’ll grow stronger. If we don’t, it’ll atrophy and grow weak. Since I became ordained, I’ve tried to wake up early every morning. The first thing I do is to write down 5 things I’m thankful for. Some things I’ll just list down. Others I’ll think about and write about in more depth, and I’ll gain even more insight about things I’m grateful for. With the college interns over the summer, every morning we would reflect individually on things that we were grateful for the previous day. This kind of practice trains our eyes and mind to see things that are good. It builds up a heart of gratitude.
Gratitude is the way of life for disciples of Christ. It is ingrained in our life as a faith community. This is why worship is at the very center of Christian life. We turn back from our daily lives every week to come and worship. In worship, we give thanks to God, and this worship and thanksgiving become the foundation of our lives. This is the principle of the Sabbath. We rest from daily life, turn back and offer our thanksgiving and gratitude to God. When we do, we are made well. This is why last year’s theme for our church was “Healing through Worship.” True worship with gratitude heals us and makes us well. From this foundation of regular worship, we see the source from whom all goodness in life flows. From there we are sent to “get up and go on our way” for another week. And to pour out our own blessings onto others. Worship and Sabbath is the culmination of our lives, the moment that gives our lives meaning and purpose. This is why our first calling from God is to worship. Gratitude is our calling, our way of life.
People today are so angry, so discontent and so unfulfilled. Because all they see is what’s lacking or missing. When gratitude is our way of life, the foundation of our lives, we will see instead overflowing goodness and abundance. Our hearts will overflow with goodness and abundance. The life of gratitude, is a good life.
This Thanksgiving, let us turn back and reflect on all the goodness in our lives. Who are the people who have carried you? Who has encouraged and strengthened you through difficult times? Turn back and be thankful for them. Tell them how thankful you are and how much you appreciate them. What goodness and grace can you see flowing through your life, even in the midst of difficulties? Give thanks to God for it. Let us be people of overflowing abundance. Let us build this community, into a beautiful one where goodness overflows. And let us live beautiful lives built on the foundation of gratitude.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!