As I’ve mentioned before multiple times, I’m a big fan of Dennis Prager, a conservative Jewish radio talk-show host. I don’t always agree with everything he says, but he certainly provides an interesting perspective on the Torah and the rest of the O.T. One interesting point he made from the book of Exodus recently was on the spiritual state of Israel once they got out of Egypt. They'd seen such incredible miracles and had been redeemed so magnificently by the hand of the Lord. And what was their mantra? “Oh, if only we’d stayed in Egypt! Things were so good there! We had plenty of meat in every pot, and didn’t have to eat this nasty Manna every day!” Oh, really?! And I guess you had less mouths to feed anyway, since an entire generation of infant boys was cast into the river and murdered! Have you forgotten how brutal the slavery was? How often you cried out to the Lord for deliverance? Prager’s point is that we tend to idealize the past and disparage the way the Lord's blessed us in the present. From there he uses that to teach us about ingratitude and how 1) How universal it is, and 2) How evil it is.
In fact, you could make a strong case that it lies at the heart of our first parents’ sin. God had plopped them into the middle of a bountiful garden and provided for their every need. How many trees were there in the Garden for them to eat from? I don’t know, but I do know how many trees were forbidden to them: One. And instead of focusing on what the Lord had given them, they fixated on the little which he had not given them.
And of course the pattern continues to today’s passage. Remember our little talk a few months ago about what lepers had to endure? Not just the physical symptoms. The utter and complete isolation from “normal” society. Permanently excluded from worship in the temple. Cut off from all your family and friends. Not able to touch another human being unless they’re unclean too.
It’s a common occurrence in the Gospels. Physically inflicted people cry out to Jesus, and in his compassion he heals them. On a side-note, they weren’t healed until they showed some faith by obeying what he said: Once they started walking to the priest, they were cleansed on the way. And out of the ten, one turns back to say “Thank you.” Thank you for saving me from a lifetime of pain and misery and isolation. Notice the wonder of Jesus that children of Israel showed less spiritual sensitivity than this “foreigner,” a frequent theme in Luke. Even in the midst of Christ’s earthly ministry to the Jews, his grace was reaching out to Gentiles as well.
That’s the heart of ingratitude, isn’t it? The Lord has given us so much and has been so generous, on the physical plane and especially on the spiritual one. If you’re an American, I guarantee you that you’ve eaten better today than about 90% of the rest of the world. You probably live in a bigger and better house, and you’re undoubtedly a lot healthier too. Then we get to the spiritual blessings he’s poured into our laps until we can’t hold any more: chosen before the foundation of the world, bought by his blood, adopted into his family, given the Holy Spirit, declared to be the co-heir of Christ, protected by his seal of ownership, etc.
And when we stub our toe, we’re so mad at God we want to spit. When our favorite TV show doesn’t record properly on our DVR, we’re like children banging our spoons on our high chairs. When our boss yells at us or our spouse doesn’t appreciate us the way we like, we sulk. Notice I said “we,” and I meant it. I’m not pointing fingers, or if I am I’ve got them pointing at me as well. It’s something I struggle with just as much as anyone else.
Here’s a challenge for you, a “game” which I and my wife play when we’re tempted to whine and moan about our circumstances: “The Thankfulness Game.” We take turns going back and forth, and when your turn comes back, you have to name something for which you’re grateful. It really improves your attitude, trust me.
Father, I’m so sorry for the times I’m like the other nine. You’ve been so good to me and mine, and I want to reflect that. In the way I talk and in the way I act, I want to show the world how good you are.