A man went to his rabbi and complained, “There are ten of us living in one room. Life is unbearable! What can I do?” The rabbi answered, “Go home and take your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous; but the rabbi was insistent. “Do as I say. Come back in a week.”
A week later the man returned looking even more distraught than before. “Rabbi, please, we cannot stand it. The goat is so filthy!” The rabbi then told him, “Very well, go home and let the goat out. Come back in a week.” A radiant man returned to the rabbi a week later. His perspective had been astonishingly altered. “Life is beautiful,” he cried. “We enjoy every minute of living together without the goat – and there’s only the ten of us!”
Jesus once encountered a group of ten, living together, with little for which to be thankful. These ten had more than a stinking goat in the room. They had leprosy. From a distance they shout to the rabbi Jesus to have mercy on them – life was unbearable. This group was following standard social protocol. Leprosy was highly contagious and had to be controlled. Those who had the disease were quarantined into colonies. Those unfortunate enough to contract the disease were thus cut off from family and friends, typically, for the rest of their lives.
It’s hard for us to imagine the stigma attached to this malady when we have never seen anyone with the disease. It is a crippling, disfiguring condition. Today it can be treated and cured with drugs costing a couple hundred dollars, but in Jesus’ day, it was a death sentence. Devastating the skin, eyes, and lungs, it ate away at the nerve endings and flesh until it completely dismantled the sufferer. Jesus did more than change their perspective. Mercifully, he healed them. Maybe fingers began to grow back. Maybe the difficult breathing was replaced by fully inflatable lungs. Maybe their splotchy skin became pink and healthy again. For the first time in years they are physically well, and this group turns together from death’s door. But they do not turn together toward their healer.
Only one of the ten came back to Jesus. This one fell at the feet of Christ and worshiped him. Outside of others in his leper colony, this was the first person he had drawn close to in years. He didn’t run home to a wife he had not held in years. He didn’t scoop up the children he had only seen play at a distance. He didn’t seek out his old friends who had long given him up for dead. No, he went first and foremost to Jesus. He threw himself down on the ground in devotion. This was a thankful man. This was a grateful man. This was a man with perspective. The tragedy is that this was the only one who returned to say, “Thank you.” Even Jesus was surprised by this. “Were not all ten cleansed?” Jesus asked rhetorically. “Then, where are the other nine?”
Why didn’t the others come back? Maybe one waited to see if the cure was for real. Maybe another intended to go back later, as soon as possible. Maybe one ran to the family from which he had long been separated or got so entranced with having his life back, he simply forgot to return to the one who had performed the healing. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that we can become so absorbed in our happiness – in our blessings or good fortune – that we fail to consider the Source of those blessings. We do not maintain perspective, and can sometimes say “Thank you,” because we know that it is the proper thing to do, but saying it and feeling it are two different things.
During this holiday week, may the Source of every good and perfect gift give us the greatest gift of all: A grateful heart. In return, may we fall at his feet with thanksgiving.