Why does saying “thank you” matter? Is it anything more than manners (of the sort children have to do, and adults think they have grown out of)? Perhaps so. The story of 10 healed lepers, of whom only one returns to Jesus to offer thanks, is interesting. (Luke 17:11-19).
It seems all 10 are healed, and stay healed – we have to assume the cure was “certified” by the priest, allowing them to return from isolation to normal life. Perhaps it was the urgency of getting that official all clear that led them to hurry off. But the tenth stops to give thanks, and we see how thanksgiving recognises a gift. Recognising a gift means also recognising the giver. Knowing that the most important things we have (life, health, intelligence, opportunity . .) are a gift from God is an understanding that changes our view of the universe.
Of course thanksgiving is a large part of worship – and making that a public statement is important in our witness to what God has done for us, that is our faith. We don’t do a lot of thanksgiving or praise in our western culture. Politicians, celebrities and others known to many are more likely to be gossiped about or criticised, to the extent that public thanks or praise sound strange, if not strained.
So, what benefit does this leper get from his return to thank Jesus? He is reminded of, and acknowledges, the gift of healing. He opens a relationship with the one who gave him his cure. More than this, Jesus says “your faith has made you well” – not fit, or un-leprous, but well. Being well covers far more. We might imagine that some of the 9 healed lepers remain angry at their treatment, fearful of further illness, keen to settle old scores . . To be well is to be freed of so much more than physical illness.