“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we ever give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I have always been fascinated by the extraordinary life of a man known simply as Jesus. He said that he came into this world on a mission and he proclaimed a message that would alter the course of the human race forever.   When he was here on earth (2000 years ago), he gained quite a reputation in and around the Galilee region of ancient Israel for his profound wisdom and amazing supernatural abilities.  Imagine Jesus walking along a dusty road on the outskirts of a small town when all at once ten lepers see him approaching. Standing at a distance, perhaps across a thoroughfare or maybe a small barren field, the lepers began to shout, “Jesus, sir, have mercy on us!”

A record of this event can be found in the Bible’s Newer Testament Book of Luke:

11 As they continued onward toward Jerusalem, they reached the border between Galilee and Samaria, 12 and as they entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, sir, have mercy on us!”

14 He looked at them and said, “Go to the Jewish priest and show him that you are healed!” And as they were going, their leprosy disappeared.

15 One of them came back to Jesus, shouting, “Glory to God, I’m healed!” 16 He fell flat on the ground in front of Jesus, face downward in the dust, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a despised Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the nine? 18 Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?”

19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

Lepers posed an interesting conundrum. Under Hebraic law, they could not approach Jesus as it was prohibited for them to mingle within society. They were considered perpetually impure and the good people of the community were forbidden to have any physical contact with them. Lepers lived banished lives, dwelling on the fringes of the social order. This is why initially, Jesus did not drew near to the lepers nor did he lay his hand upon them as he had so often done before when healing the sick.

Now here is what intrigues me: when Jesus saw them, He shouted, “Go to the priest and show him that you are healed!”  Why would he tell them to do that?  Once again, it has to do with Hebraic law at the time.  If a leper was truly healed of this horrible affliction, he must go before a priest to validate the cure.  Once confirmed, the formerly leprous individual could then obtain permission to move around in society.

Apparently, the words that Jesus spoke to the lepers motivated them to believe they were healed of their disease.  Jesus directing them to go find a Priest (before any visible manifestation of a cure) was a deliberate test of their trust in the power of God.  While still exhibiting outward symptoms of the horrible contagion, they set off to find a Cleric.  Suddenly, as they were walking along the road, they began to notice their leprosy was disappearing.

One of the ten lepers was a Samaritan.  The Jews at that time despised the Samaritans.  They worshiped the same God, but they didn’t get along at all.  This is why Jesus made note of him.   He said, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Does only this foreigner return to give glory to God?”  The Samaritan leper, filled with gratitude, went to find Jesus and fell down at his feet in the dust “thanking him for what he had done.” (Luke 17:16)

Imagine. An obvious miracle has taken place in the lives of ten desperate people but only one came back to say thank you. It seems pretty clear to me that leper number ten had the attitude of gratitude. If I were a gambling man, I’d wager he never forgot the lowly Nazarene called Jesus who literally saved his life that day.  By the way, did you notice that Jesus recognized the leper’s faith as the catalyst for his cure?  He said, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”  Ponder that.

“Gratitude can transform common days into Thanksgiving. Turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward

Paul Harvey, the much beloved American radio broadcaster and writer, passed away in February of 2009. It has been estimated that at one time his various programs reached 24 million people each week on over 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations, and 300 newspapers. In a 1977 broadcast of his widely popular “The Rest of the Story, Paul Harvey shared this story,

“It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit a broken down pier on the eastern seacoast of Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket. Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean…For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark…ten feet long.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred. In Captain Eddie’s own words, “Cherry,” that was the B- 17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking… “Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice.

So, now you know that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker made it. And now you also know…that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, just about sunset, on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast…you could see an old man walking…white-haired, bushy eye browed, and slightly bent. His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to remember that one solitary gull which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness.” ***

What does a grateful Samaritan leper and an old war hero who could never forget that God saved him through a seagull have in common?  It’s the attitude of gratitude.  Perhaps you have something for which to be grateful.  I sure do.  Every moment of love, joy, peace, and happiness we attain is a gift of providential grace.  So, count your blessings carefully, express appreciation often, and affirm goodness always.  Quoting spiritual writer, poet, and author Thomas Merton,

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, and is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

The attitude of gratitude.  Catch it. Pass it on!

***Paul Aurandt, “The Old Man and the Gulls”, Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story, 1977, quoted in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, p. 79-80.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabid Coastal Junkie ®  
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656

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