And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee.…
There are, speaking broadly, three chief reasons for unthankfulness on the part of man towards God. First, an indistinct idea or an under-estimate of the service that He renders us; secondly, a disposition, whether voluntary or not, to lose sight of our benefactor; thirdly, the notion that it does not matter much to Him whether we acknowledge His benefits or not. Let us take these in order.
I. There is, first of all, THE DISPOSITION TO MAKE LIGHT OF A BLESSING OR BENEFIT RECEIVED. Of this the nine lepers in the gospel could hardly have been guilty — at any rate, at the moment of their cure. To the Jews especially, as in a lesser degree to the Eastern world at large, this disease, or group of diseases, appeared in their own language to be as a living death. The nine lepers were more probably like children with a new toy, too delighted with their restored health and honour to think of the gracious friend to whom they owed it. In the case of some temporal blessings it is thus sometimes with us: the gift obscures the giver by its very wealth and profusion. But in spiritual things we are more likely to think chiefly of the gift. At bottom of their want of thankfulness there lies a radically imperfect estimate of the blessings of redemption, and until this is reversed they cannot seriously look into the face of Christ and thank Him for His inestimable love.
II. Thanklessness is due, secondly, TO LOSING SIGHT OF OUR BENEFACTOR, AND OF THIS THE NINE LEPERS WERE NO DOUBT GUILTY. Such a thanklessness as this may arise from carelessness, or it may be partly deliberate. The former was probably the case with the nine lepers. The powerful and benevolent stranger who had told them to go to the priests to be inspected had fallen already into the background of their thought, and if they reasoned upon the causes of their cure they probably thought of some natural cause, or of the inherent virtue of the Mosaic ordinances. For a sample of thanklessness arising from a careless forgetfulness o! kindness received, look at the bearing of many children in the present day towards their parents. How often in place of a loving and reverent bearing do young men and women assume with their parents a footing of perfect equality, if not of something more, as if, forsooth, they had conferred a great benefit upon their fathers and mothers by becoming their children, and giving them the opportunity of working for their support and education. This does not — I fully believe it does not — in nine cases out of ten imply a bad heart in the son or daughter. It is simply a form of that thanklessness which is due to want of reflection on the real obligations which they owe to the human authors of their life.
III. Thanklessness is due, thirdly, TO THE UTILITARIAN SPIRIT. If prayer be efficacious the use of it is obvious; but where, men ask, is the use of thankfulness? What is the good of thankfulness, they say, at any rate when addressed to such a being as God? If man does us a service and we repay him, that is intelligible: he needs our repayment. We repay him in kind if we can, or if we cannot, we repay him with our thanks, which gratify his sense of active benevolence — perhaps his lower sense of self-importance. But what benefit can God get by receiving the thanks of creatures whom He has made and whom He supports? Now, if the lepers did think thus, our Lord's remark shows that they were mistaken — not in supposing that a Divine Benefactor is not dependent for His happiness on the return which His creatures may make to Him — not in thinking that it was out of their power to make Him any adequate return at all — but at least in imagining that it was a matter of indifference to Him whether He was thanked or not. If not for His own sake, yet for theirs, He would be thanked. To thank the author of a blessing is for the receiver of the blessing to place himself voluntarily under the law of truth by acknowledging the fact that he has been blest. To do this is a matter of hard moral obligation; it is also a condition of moral force. "It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God." Why meet? Why right? Because it is the acknowledgment of a hard fact — the fact that all things some of God, the fact that we are utterly dependent upon Him, the fact that all existence, all life, is but an outflow of His love; because to blink this fact is to fall back into the darkness and to forfeit that strength which comes always and everywhere with the energetic acknowledgment of truth. Morally speaking, the nine lepers were not the men they would have been if, at the cost of some trouble, they had accompanied the one who, "when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, giving Him thanks."
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.