By Victor Knowles
Practically everyone is familiar with the term “Good Samaritan.” Even those who aren’t acquainted with the biblical account (Luke 10:25-37) likely have heard the term used in media reports: “Breaking news! Good Samaritan is being hailed today as a hero for rendering assistance to a stranded elderly couple on a busy stretch of the city’s most traveled boulevard.”
A Good Samaritan is a person who pities and helps another unselfishly. Some hospitals have taken the name Good Samaritan. Some countries have established Good Samaritan laws to protect from prosecution those who come to the aid of others in accidents or other times of peril.
From Good to Grateful
But have you ever heard of the Grateful Samaritan? His story is told in the Bible too. In fact, the story of the Grateful Samaritan appears just seven chapters after the account of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers met him on the outskirts of an unnamed village. “They stood at a distance” (Luke 17:12) because lepers were not allowed to live within the city limits (Leviticus 13:46). The 10 outcasts, who normally cried “Unclean! Unclean!” (13:45), this time cried out as one: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13). Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, which is what the law required (Leviticus 14:1-32). The 10 turned as one and headed to the local priest, and on the way an amazing thing happened. They were immediately healed!
Now the story takes an amazing turn. “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15, 16).
Dr. Luke makes a point of clearly identifying the grateful man: “and he was a Samaritan.” The implication is that the others who lived outside this border town were Jews, the ones to whom Jesus was sent (Matthew 15:24). Jesus was struck by their ingratitude, for he asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). The Samaritan was the only one who showed gratitude to God, the ultimate source of his healing.
The Parent of All Virtues
I wonder if that percentage of truly grateful people might not be about the same today. Are only 10 percent of us truly grateful for the goodness of God?
The word gratitude springs from the Latin gratus and means “full of appreciation.” From gratus at least seven words are derived:
• Gratis (something done as a favor, free)
• Gratify (to please)
• Gratuity (a tip—because you are pleased with service rendered)
• Congratulate (acknowledging the achievements of others)
• Ingrate (someone who is not grateful—like the nine lepers who never returned)
• Ingratiate (to bring one into another’s favor)
• Grace (saying grace or saving grace—God’s unmerited favor).
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, it is the parent of all others.” When we are full of appreciation, acts and deeds of gratitude will spill over from our lives to those who have blessed us and helped us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” What are some biblical guidelines that will enrich our lives and the lives of others?
A Heart of Humility
Gratitude requires humility. Proud people cannot live gratefully. It is an insult to their intelligence and a puncture to their pride to show gratitude. “Successful, self-made” men and women cannot afford to live gratefully. It would be considered a sign of weakness, a betrayal of their bravado. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The proud will only inherit the wind of their bluster.
Grateful souls are humble souls. The Grateful Samaritan was so overcome with appreciation for what Jesus had done for him that he “threw himself at Jesus’ feet.”
A proud person would never do that. The proud stand firm and bow to no one. But eventually they will find themselves in a prone position. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).
When we show gratitude, we are revealing a heart of humility. God recognizes and rewards the humble accordingly. “The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground” (Psalm 147:6). “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Proverbs 3:34). James reminds us, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (James 4:6).
A Declaration of Dependence
Today we need a “Declaration of Dependence”—dependence upon God so that we will live gratefully. We are far too self-sufficient and independent.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Some of us suffer from “affluenza”—too much affluence. In my travels to remote villages in Cuba, India, and Africa, I have met many believers who truly are dependent upon God and literally pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” And they are ever so grateful, thankful, and appreciative when their daily bread is supplied.
The Chinese have a proverb: “When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.” The next time you eat a steak, remember the American farmer—and the God who gave the farmer rain for the grain and the livestock. Everything we have is a gift from God. “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
We are completely and totally dependent upon God for the gift of each new day, every minute of every hour, indeed, every breath that we take. The Grateful Samaritan knew full well that his new life was a gift from God.
An Effusion of Expression
Many cry, “God be merciful!” but never say, “God be praised!” The Grateful Samaritan expressed his gratitude to Jesus. We don’t know what his exact words were but we do know that he expressed them. He couldn’t keep it in! He just had to burst forth with thanksgiving. He praised God with a loud voice. This was no time to be silent. G. B. Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much good to anyone.”
Arthur Callandro tells the story of some businessmen who were talking one day about people who had influenced their lives. One man mentioned a schoolteacher, a Mrs. Wendt, who had introduced him to Tennyson. He was prompted to write to her. His letter was forwarded until it reached her. Some time later he received a letter from her, written in a feeble hand: “I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has for years.”
Alfred painter observed, “Saying ‘Thank you’ is more than good manners. It is good spirituality.”
A Lifetime of Living Gratefully
John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to [merely] utter words but to live by them.” I believe the Grateful Samaritan learned that the highest appreciation he could show to Jesus was to live daily for him.
Jesus forever changed the life of a man named Legion. He told him to go home and tell others what he had done for him. As a result, the lives of hundreds of people in the Decapolis (Ten Cities) were changed because of Legion’s testimony (Mark 5:19, 29). Perhaps the same was true of the Grateful Samaritan.
Never for a moment forget what God has done for you in Christ. Be forever grateful for the healing touch of his hand on your life.
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, MO. www.poeministries.org
Being Wholly Thankful
In 1983, psychologist Howard Gardner introduced seven styles of learning in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 2011).
Most people favor one or two of them as they absorb and express information. The more methods the learning involves, the deeper the understanding (www.learning-styles-online.com/overview).
Looking at each of the learning styles can help maximize gratitude. Which styles most often characterize your expressions of gratitude? How can you incorporate the others in order to more deeply experience and express thankfulness to God and other people?