Posts Tagged ‘“The Giving Tree”’

The Tenth
10/10/10–Ord 28c
Luke 17:11-19

Once there was a tree….and she loved a little boy.

And everyday the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree….very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy.”

“I am too big to climb and play” said the boy. “I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money?”
“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money.
I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy.”

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time….and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy
and she said, “Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy.”

“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm,” he said. “I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?” ” I have no house,” said the tree.
“The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy.”

And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back,
the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered, “come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy.
“I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree.”Then you can sail away…and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.

And the tree was happy
… but not really.

This came from beloved children’s author, Shel Silverstein, in his book The Giving Tree. As a young person, this was one of my favorite stories. But when I read it again a few years ago, I got really mad at the little boy in the story. The tree loves the little boy, and gives him everything he wants, even at the expense of her own life and well-being. We’re told at the beginning that the boy loves the tree, but never once does the boy give anything to the tree. Not once does the boy tend to the tree’s needs. And not once, despite being given so many gifts, does the boy ever thank the tree. He just takes and takes, almost as if he’s entitled to them. I’ve been mad at this selfish little boy for years.

So you can imagine how I feel when I stumble on this group of lepers who have been given such a tremendous gift of life and health and only one of them comes back to say thank you for being made well. One out of ten! One tenth! If you took a ten-question quiz in school, and managed to answer only one correctly, I can pretty much guarantee that your parents would be getting a call. These results are hardly stellar.

Yet, as I think about my own life, and what I’ve observed from people, saying “Thank You” isn’t as easy for us as we’d like to believe it is. In fact, I’d argue (again based on my own life and observations) that it’s a whole lot easier for us to grumble about what isn’t right than it is to say thank you for what is. I know when my house gets cluttered, sadly, it’s a lot easier for me to fuss and complain than it is to thank Donovan for the things he does to help out. Think about this: how much easier is it to fuss at slow service in a check-out lane than it is to thank the one bagging your groceries for making sure your delicate produce didn’t get smooshed. Or how much easier is it to grumble about a few days of ill-health than it is to rejoice at the many days when we’re well.

I’m not exactly sure why this is, but the truth about human beings (as a general rule…of course there are individual exceptions) is that we’re hesitant to say thank you. Biblical storyteller Martin Bell gave some thought to this story of the lepers and here are the reasons he came up with that nine out of ten didn’t say thank you– which might just be the same reasons it’s hard for us to say thank you.
One of them was frightened – that’s all. He didn’t understand what had happened, and it frightened him. So he looked for some place to hide. Jesus scared him.

A second was offended because he had not been required to do something difficult before he could be healed. It was all too easy. He had expected months, maybe even years, of prayer and fasting and washing and righteous living before he could be healed, but he had done none of this. His motto was “you get what you pay for.” Jesus made it too easy.

 The third had realized too late that he had not really wanted to be cleansed. He did not know what to do or how to live without his leprosy. He did not even know who he was as a person without his leprosy. Jesus had taken away his identity.
The fourth leper did not return to give thanks because in his great joy he simply forgot. He forgot. That’s all. He was so happy that he forgot.

 The fifth leper was unable to say thank you anymore to anyone. His life of leprosy and begging had turned his heart hard and calloused. He just  didn’t say thank you to anyone anymore.

 The sixth leper was a woman – a mother who had been separated from her family for eleven years because of the leprosy (this according to Martin Bell, though the Bible clearly identifies all ten as men). She was hurrying to the priests so she could  rejoin her husband and children. She did not return to give thanks because she was on her way home.

 The seventh had doubts that Jesus had anything to do with the cleansing. He knew that healing had taken place, but why and how were his questions. Certainly he did not believe in hocus-pocus, magic, miracles – any of that. There was a perfectly reasonable and rational explanation of what had happened, and he wondered if it had anything to do with Jesus.
The eighth leper did not return precisely because he did believe that Jesus had healed him – that the Kingdom of God was here and the Messiah had arrived. He didn’t return because he was spreading the exciting, wonderful news about the Kingdom.

 As for the ninth leper, we don’t know; we just don’t know why he didn’t return to say thank you. He must have had a reason, but we cannot begin to guess what it was.

These nine really represent you and me. They’re the churchgoers, the people of faith, the ones that regularly take the Lord’s Supper. Maybe they aren’t the villians we’d make them out to be. Of course, we all have our reasons why it’s hard for us to say thank you– to other people, or even to God. It’s almost as if saying “thank you” costs us something too dear–like it’s admitting that we aren’t self sufficient, and further, that we are dependent on someone else’s kindness. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re great at writing the obligatory thank-you notes that our Mammas made us write, but how much of that is out of ritual or obligation and not out of true gratitude?

This is a strange story– it’s not really about Jesus, but about the people that Jesus interacted with. We don’t learn a lot about Jesus, except that he healed ten people. In many of the other healing stories, the miracle or the healing is the focus. But in this one, it almost seems to be a side note. I wonder why Luke would bother to tell us this story, if it doesn’t really tell us a lot about God or Jesus?

This story isn’t really about Jesus. And it doesn’t really seem to be about the nine who kept on going, or their excuses. It isn’t about the nine, probably good and well-intentioned people who all did the same thing. This story is about one man, and how his life changed because of an encounter with Jesus. This story is about one out of ten who did something different. Some bibles title this section “The ten who were made clean” and others “the nine who did not give thanks” but I think I would title it, “The Leper who said Thank You.” Because something besides being healed of leprosy happens here when the man says thank you.

Somehow the man is shifted from his own little world to Jesus’ world. He realizes that he isn’t responsible for his own well-being…and he is transformed. Because he was both a Samaritan and a leper, he would’ve been used to being an outsider. The thought of running up to anybody, especially a Jew would’ve been unthinkable. But suddenly, when he recognizes this gift, he can do nothing other than run up to Jesus, his mouth bubbling praises. Some scholars think that this story should be separated into two stories– one of healing and one of salvation, but when you look at Luke’s work, and the larger body of the gospel, that doesn’t seem to be true. Health and salvation are almost always intertwined. When you look at both of those concepts in the scriptures, you can see that they are both aimed at making a person whole and well.

This man experiences not just a medical cure, but he is made whole and well. If you look back at the original languages of the bible, the concepts of wellness, wholeness, and salvation are used almost interchangeably.

Of course, the man is grateful– not just because he is obligated to be so, but because his whole world has changed. But this early Christ follower may have a slight edge over us. We’re awfully used to language of health and salvation. We hear about grace and forgiveness and redemption, and we’re not especially shocked by it. We’re almost numb to what Christ is doing in our lives. We forget, I think, how life changing all of this is– and maybe sometimes, it doesn’t occur to us to be thankful.

Jesus says to the man, “Your faith has made you well.” That’s interesting, because the other nine were also healed, but Jesus acknowledges that there is something different about this man. It seems that not only is Jesus noting the difference between physical healing and wholeness, but that Jesus is also linking faith to gratitude. I wonder if Jesus would even go so far as to say that there is, in fact, something life giving about gratitude that enables people to practice their faith on a whole new level. Or maybe he would say that faith without gratitude isn’t really even faith at all. The nine received the same cure as the Samaritan did, but they weren’t really whole people, because something was lacking.

I hope what you take away from this sermon is not that you need to write more thank you notes as southern codes of politeness dictate. I’m not asking that you create new rituals of thanksgiving that you do over and over because you’re supposed to. What I am hoping is that you’ll practice rejoicing–that you’ll let your heart and mouth bubble over with praise at all the things God is doing in your life–especially the things that we so easily take for granted.

And what happens when we do that, when we intentionally practice gratitude? It changes us as individuals, but it also changes a community of people. As one of my professors said, “When Christians practice gratitude, they come to worship not just to get something out of it, but to give thanks and praise to God. Stewardship is transformed from fundraising to the glad gratitude of joyful givers. The mission of the church changes from ethical duty to the work of grateful hands and hearts.”1

May all your days begin and end in doxology. “Praise God from whom all blessings come” is about the most powerful prayer I know.


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