Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Jesus heals 10 lepers)
One of the little things in everyday life that irritates me involves the phrase “You’re welcome.” My wish is that more people would say this simple phrase more often when they’re thanked.
I sometimes run into this pet peeve while listening to the radio. I listen to a lot of CBC shows; and it is rare for a guest on one of them to say “you’re welcome” when thanked by a host for appearing on the show.
My preferred practice would go something like this. Host: “Thank you for coming on this show on to discuss your new book.” Guest: “You’re welcome, host, and thank you for having me. I am looking forward to the discussion.”
Sometimes this is what is said, and when it is, I applaud. But more often, I hear something like “no worries,” or nothing at all.
I raise this pet peeve because of today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus heals ten lepers. It is only found in Luke, even though Luke is a copy of the Gospel of Mark. Some of the additions that Luke makes to Mark are ones I cherish – his birth narrative, which we hear every Christmas, and the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son among others. But most of Luke’s additions are ones I could live without, as with today’s passage.
In it, I wonder why Jesus doesn’t simply say “You’re welcome” to the leper who is the only of the ten healed by Jesus who returns to heap praise on him.
Most commentaries on this passage discuss the supposed ingratitude of the other nine. But I’m skeptical of this slant. Were they not simply following Jesus’ directive to present themselves to a priest? And is it not likely that when they found themselves healed, they had places to go and people to see?
This is not to belittle the importance of saying “Thank you.” I learned its power from an incident when I was about seven or eight years old. From the ages of six to 12, I sang in the junior choir of Knox United Church in Cornwall, ON. This was in the 1960s during the glory days of church attendance in Canada. Despite being a city of only 40,000 people — 15,000 of whom were French Catholics — Cornwall boasted two United Church congregations and a host of other English-language churches – Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist. And all of them were packed on Sunday.
The junior choir sang at Knox at the 9:15 am service. This was followed by a second service at 11 am at which the senior choir sang. And there was often an evening service at Knox as well.
There were about 15 children in Knox’s junior choir, and I enjoyed going to Thursday evening rehearsals and singing on Sunday mornings.
But a painful memory remains from one of the rehearsals. The choir had been struggling with an anthem, so the choir director asked me to sing it as a solo to give the others a sense of how it was supposed to sound. When I finished singing, the organist exclaimed, “Oh Ian, that was lovely!” The problem was, I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there feeling tongue-tied and mortified.
It was not until years later when reflecting on this incident that I realized I could have responded to her compliment with a simple “Thank you!” Simple, yes, but as a seven- or eight-year-old I didn’t yet have this response in my repertoire, regardless of how often my parents had coached me and my siblings to say thank you when someone offered us a gift.
So, when in doubt, say “thank you.” This is something I have tried to remember ever since.
But “you’re welcome” can be equally important. Life is a continuous flow of wounds and blessings and of gifts and losses. Saying “thank you,” when someone helps you, and saying “you’re welcome” when someone expresses gratitude makes the spirit flow, in my opinion.
In the story of the lepers, the one who returns to Jesus offers him praise more than thanks. Praise is a positive judgement, and as pleasant as it can feel to be positively judged, it carries some of the same edge of aggression as being negatively judged. Better, I think, to own one’s reactions, whether of pleasure, or gratitude, or relief, and to accompany this with a “thank you.”
Back to my junior choir memory, if the organist had not praised my singing those many years ago but instead had said something like, “Thank you, Ian. I really enjoyed how you sang,” it might have been easier for me to respond with “You’re welcome.” I don’t know. I do know I like it best when we stay in our own lanes and take responsibility for our own reactions, feelings, and expressions of gratitude or grace.
“You’re welcome” should flow easily, I think. The gifts we offer almost always proceed from the purest part of ourselves. We give not to receive, but because this is how we express love, vital energy, and enthusiasm for the challenges of living.
The healing symbolized by Jesus, as in today’s gospel story, is a mark of the inexhaustible gifts of the cosmos, a fountain of blessings that explains all the life and love around us and that flows through us.
Giving thanks for these blessings should also flow naturally. And when we do give thanks for them, I imagine God in Christ responding with an eternal “You’re welcome!”