Proper 23c, October 9, 2016

October 10, 2016

The Gratitude Attitude

Luke 17:11-19


11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


I don’t know what went wrong with this group of people who were miraculously and graciously healed when they made their appeal to Jesus. According to the Pareto Principle, there should have been 2 people to return to praise God and give thanks to Jesus. The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80-20 rule or the law of the vital few, and it identifies this remarkably predictable pattern that occurs within many events where 20% of the people account for 80% of the outcome. The Pareto Principle is named after Vilfredo Pareto, who made the observation in 1906 of how influential 20% of any given population is to the outcome of any situation.


He took note of the fact that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people and he knew he was on to something when he realized that 20% of his pea pods were responsible for producing 80% of his peas.


This 80-20 distribution of cause and effect has been reinforced by a number of different statistics. Many businesses report that:

  • 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s complaints come from 20% of its customers
  • 80% of a company’s sales come from 20% of its products
  • And 80% of a company’s sales are made by 20% of its sales staff[9]

In addition to these business statistics, criminologists report that 80% of crimes are committed by 20% of the criminals. A sociologist created a study that showed how 20% of rats in a given population will dominate 80% of the rest. I don’t know if our budget is supported by 20% of our constituents, but I’m grateful to everyone who supports this church on any level. It’s just sort of interesting that there is this pattern of behavior that seems to stretch across many different platforms.

There seems to be something true about this Pareto Principle. And if statistics ruled in matters of faith, there should have been two of these ten healed lepers to return to Jesus to praise God and to give their thanks. But statistics seem to go out the window when it comes to faith. People of genuine faith and divine gratitude are more rare than highly productive pea pods. But as Jesus identified in the mustard seed story last week, the smallest amount of faith can go a long way. It doesn’t take 20% of the people to change everything. One person with genuine faith can have more impact than any number of oblivious souls.

On one hand, this morning’s story is sort of dismal. Only one person out of ten seemed to understand the magnitude of the situation and returned to Jesus to acknowledge this great gift. You would think this amazing transformation would have moved these men to exceed the standard Pareto Priciple parameters. You would think at least three of the men would have thought to return to the One who had changed their lives so thoroughly.

But the Pareto Principle isn’t the only predictor of human behavior. There is also the Herd Mentality to take in to account. It’s not easy to go against what everyone else is doing. And while we don’t know if this Samaritan man who returned to Jesus was the only Samaritan in the group, but if he had been, it’s easy to see why nobody else came back with him – good Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans – unless they were lepers. Leprosy was a very leveling condition.

It didn’t matter who you were if your skin was infected – you weren’t welcome. The only people you could associate with were other lepers and Jesus, but the bonds that existed between fellow lepers weren’t so strong. Nine of out ten of these men who were healed of their leprosy didn’t look back. When they got their clean bill of health stamped by the priest and they were ready to forget their former associates and to reestablish their place in society.

I can imagine myself doing the same thing. Nobody wants to be cast outside of the standard group. Nobody wants to be seen as different. I know a little bit about that. I had a face full of freckles when I was a child. I guess I still have them, but wrinkles, whiskers, and decades of weathering have pretty much masked my natural spots, but I was really self-conscious of my freckles when I was a child. Grandmothers thought they were cute, but I wanted to fit in with 4th graders. I hated my freckles. I felt different, and that was a terrible feeling.

Of course that was a small burden compared to what many people endure as children and as adults. I don’t know if there’s anything more painful than being considered different – or even worse – to be considered unacceptable. I’ll be having my 40th high school reunion in a couple of weeks.

I know it’s hard to believe that someone as young as I am could have graduated from high school in 1976. But that seems to be the case. I’m not sure who will be showing up for our reunion, but I know one person who won’t be there. Our classmate Lyndon Smith won’t be there. He took his own life soon after we graduated. In all honesty, I don’t know what transpired in his life that caused him to be so desperate, but what I know about Lyndon is that he never quite fit in. He was an incredibly shy person, and I also think he was a very sensitive person. I’m really sorry to say that I don’t really know what happened to him because I didn’t know him very well. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who knew him very well.


This world can be a terrible place for people who don’t fit in. Being labeled as a leper in the region of Galilee and Samaria in the 1st century was an unbearable condition. It meant you weren’t welcome in anyone’s house. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that this is how my former classmate might have felt. It’s a terrible condition for anyone to be identified as someone who is unacceptable, and we need to take note of the fact that Jesus treated such people with compassion.


Jesus certainly wasn’t controlled by herd mentality, nor by the Paretto Principle. He was not moved to do things by statistical predictions or by popular expectations. Jesus functioned as a person who was sensitive to the will of God, and that caused him to operate in a totally unique and redeeming manner.


It was a huge thing for Jesus to respond to the plea of this group of lepers to have mercy on them because they were the object of scorn by everyone else. What Jesus did for them was nothing a respectable person would ever have done. He treated them as if they were worthy of respect. This is not something an official religious person would ever have done, and it restored them in the community.


Being acceptable to the community is such a huge thing. I doubt if my classmate would have taken his life if he had felt accepted by the community. I don’t know what caused him to be so aliented, but it makes me sad to think about him and all the other people who are identified as too different to fit in. There’s an important message here for those of us who have the seal of approval of the acceptable community – we need to be sensitive to those who feel pushed to the outside.


But there’s another message here as well. And it’s a message for all of us. The message is that we are all fully accepted and loved by God, and the proper response to this incredible gift is gratitude. I know that it’s not always easy to be in touch with the attitude of gratitude, but because of the way in which we are always regarded by God, this is always an appropriate way to feel.


I don’t want to diminish the real pain that we all feel about the different things that happen to us. Bad things happen, tragedy occurs, suffering can consume us, but we should neve see any of these things as a form of abandonment by God. Jesus was particularly sensitive to those who were considered to be the vicims of God’s wrath because he didn’t want us to associate misfortune with divine punishment.


Certainly there are forms of misfortune that are created by irresponsible and hateful behavior. Social ostracism are often the consequences of wreckless and godless undertakings, but we are never seen in the same way by God as we are by our peers. God loves us regardless of how awful we behave. God wants us to be restored regardless of the things we may have done. Our God is full of forgiveness and our God longs for us to become reconciled with ourselves and with other people. God wants us to understand who we really are and how we can move forward in a new and loving way.


And one of those lepers got it. One of those lepers not only realized what had happened to him but who who was responsible, and he came back looking for Jesus. That one man knew that he didn’t just want to be free to connect with the world in the same old way. This one man knew he wanted more out of life than freedom to visit the marketplace. This one man knew he wanted more of what Jesus had offered him. He recognized that he had been provided with some abundant life, and he was grateful!



Our challenge in life is not to live by the Paretto Principle or the Herd Mentality, our calling is to want to be more than respectable or acceptable. Our calling is to join with what appears to be about 10% of the people in this world who live with genuine gratitude to God and love for others. Actually I have no idea what percentage of people live with such affection for God and their neighbors, but that is who we are invited to be. That is the avenue to abundant life, and while it’s not the easiest path to go down it is the most rewarding. When you are touched in a loving and healing way by Jesus Christ there is one proper response – to live lives defined by gratitude and love.


I’ve heard it said that it’s hard to be hateful when you’re grateful, and I think that pretty much sums it up. It’s not the most common way to live – it’s the most divine.


Thanks be to God.



One Response to “Proper 23c, October 9, 2016”

  1. michael wilson Says:

    Again, Thompson a very appropriate sermon for all of us – did not think I had the time to read this but, as always, glad i did – we always have more time than we think we do for the good stuff! – Mickey Wilson

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