THANKFULNESS – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 23, Year C; Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (RC)

October 9, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 or 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 66:1-12 or Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4 (see 2b)
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

Day by day, week by week, my friend Kate is losing her memory. There are so many unsettling aspects to this journey, from letting go of simple everyday tasks like driving to forgetting conversations from just moments ago.

One of the things that makes me saddest about Kate’s memory loss is related to the inspiration I have received from her for many years. As someone who embraced recovery at a crucial moment in her life, Kate learned to notice things in the world around her, and she called them to mind frequently in a spirit of thankfulness. She took note of little things that she encountered during the day. Although she lost her home in a fire, she paid attention to the many kindnesses of friends and others that helped her get back on her feet, and she freely expressed her thanks.

Kate has been constantly thankful, even in the midst of hardship and pain—because first she noticed things and called them to mind. She learned to regard thankfulness not as a feeling, but as a practice, something that she made space for every day, recalling concrete experiences and remembering the good things that filled her life. Kate was deeply influenced by 12 Step Programs that advocate for an “attitude of gratitude,” keeping lists and calling to mind things large and small that call for thankfulness.

In two of today’s Scripture readings, we hear of people who experienced life-changing events that taught them thankfulness. In the passage from 2 Kings, we meet the great Syrian military leader Naaman, who learned to give thanks only through a process of being brought low. In the face of leprosy, he thought he could buy God’s favor, but the prophet Elisha dashed those expectations by sending the general to wash in the puny, insignificant Jordan River. It was there that he would experience both physical healing and spiritual transformation, leading him to acknowledge the God of Israel: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (2 Kgs 5:15c).

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, ten lepers are healed. As in the story of Naaman, they are not asked to perform any extraordinary deed, but simply to go and show themselves to the priests. Only one—like Naaman, a foreigner—returns to offer thanks to Jesus. All ten had noticed that they were healed, but only the Samaritan took the next step. He “turned back” (Lk 17:15), praising God, acknowledging Jesus, and carrying out an act of thanksgiving. By noting that the Samaritan changed direction, Luke calls attention to the conversion that is required for true thankfulness. As our lives are touched and changed by God’s action, so are we called to take notice, and then to offer thanks for the good things God has done.

The great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth viewed thanksgiving as the fundamental human response to God. “Only as we thank God do we fulfill our true being,” he wrote. I’m grateful for my friend Kate who has taught me this through the Gospel of her life.

A Hymn for Today: “Ten Lepers Facing Constant Scorn”

In this hymn text, former Hymn Society President John Thornburg, FHS, reflects on today’s Gospel story in a way that only a skilled story teller and preacher could do.

Ten lepers facing constant scorn,
emboldened by their daily plight,
encountered One whose healing touch
was known to put disease to flight.
The ten outsiders sought relief:
“Have mercy, Master, hear our plea.”
“Seek out the priests,” the Healer said.
He knew the walk could set them free.

A nameless junction in the road
became a holy turnabout.
One awestruck convert spun around
and, praising God, began to shout.
God gave the space to turn around
to all the others on the way,
but only one resolved to seize
the miracle of grace that day.

Would we have stopped, retraced our steps,
and then embraced the living Lord
whose word had banished all our sores?
What kind of thanks would we afford?
God, make of us your living tithes;
the first fruits, fit to work for you.
Let each be like that one in ten:
transformed and cleansed, restored, made new.

Text: John Thornburg, b.1954. © 2003, John Thornburg, admin. Wayne Leupold Editions. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Healing of the Ten Lepers, JESUS MAFA, Cameroon, 1973

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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