"Thank you God that America is the best." Do we pray that kind of prayer? Is it just emotional cheer-leading or is it fact? Perhaps we should begin with one simple question: Where is the world's number one economy? I'm sure that most of you will answer America, but you will be wrong if you do. Since 2007 that title belongs somewhere else. Can you guess where?
In Luke 18:11 Jesus spoke of the wrong kind of thanksgiving. It is the kind that is filled with national or personal or racial pride and arrogance. It is the kind of thanksgiving we hear people pray sometimes even in church. I remember hearing prayers similar to, “Thank you God that I was born a [you name the country or sex or race or social status], the best there is.” Such lack of humility is really a kind of self-delusion, a lack of willingness to face the truth. In Luke 17:11-19 is the exact opposite, the right kind of thanksgiving. It is exuberant, enthusiastic and demonstrative thanksgiving. How many of our more reserved church members go wild when their favorite sports team wins, but express unenthusiastic, halfhearted and passionless thanks to God, unlike the Samaritan who gave thanks?
Luke contrasts two thanksgiving prayers, a Jewish Pharisee and a Samaritan leper. Samaria contained a mixed-race people who only recognized the books of Moses. There was racial and religious tension between the two groups. Luke recorded James and John wanting to punish them, the Good Samaritan story and this thankful Samaritan. He also wrote Acts and recorded Philip’s Gospel work in Samaria. The Pharisee was physically pure. The Samaritan was unclean. The Pharisee believed he was better than everyone else. The Samaritan knew he was not. The Pharisee gave thanks in the holy temple. The Samaritan was on a road but also at Jesus’ feet. The Pharisee was thankful for what he has done. The Samaritan was thankful for what Jesus had done. The Pharisee praised himself. The Samaritan praised Jesus. What about us?
So where is the world's largest economy? Three sources, the IMF, World Bank and the CIA World Factbook show that it is now the European Union. When we live in a delusion, we are less likely to face facts. The most important fact is that like the Pharisee, any nation, rich or poor, that is self-serving and self-congratulatory is inferior. True superiority is not found in economic or military might but only found in God. As America considers the ideal of "one nation under God" then and only then is it truly great.