Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”
We’ve all been there. We’ve gone out of our way to do something nice for someone and they barely acknowledge our graciousness. It could be something as simple as holding the door open for the person walking behind us just to notice them saunter by without even a glance. Perhaps we let someone driving ahead of us into our lane and they don’t give us the courtesy wave. Maybe it’s something much more significant. Perhaps we alleviated the suffering of another by assuming their burden as or own and they don’t even bother to acknowledge it. Maybe we forgave someone for a past hurt only to be hurt in the same fashion all over again. Whatever the case, no matter how large or small our act of graciousness may be, it just doesn’t sit right when we fail to see gratitude.
In this morning’s gospel we see ten lepers calling to Jesus from a distance. Why the distance? Lepers were outcasts; deemed unclean. They were required to stay away from the community. They relied solely on the charity of others for their survival. So they call to Jesus from a distance. They are told to show themselves to the chief priest. They then follow their directive and walk towards the village. One of them, a Samaritan, realizes that he has been cured of this horrible disease and runs back to Jesus; not ten only one.
Jesus expresses a very human response at this. He says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” He doesn’t let the absence of the others escape him. He continues, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God, stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Jesus’ initial reaction was to notice that nine lepers who had been healed through his charity and compassion were not there in gratitude. They received a huge gift. Besides the fact that they were now rid of this terrible disease, let’s not forget that they were outcasts. They could now return to their communities, their homes, their families. This brings us to the very heart of the matter as it pertains to this gospel passage. The nine were indeed healed. But they weren’t saved.
Each time our kids receive a present for their birthday or any other occasion, Diane makes them sit down and write a thank you note to the person who gave them the gift. The note usually acknowledges the gift received, further details a sense of appreciation for that gift, and then expresses gratitude for that gift; a pretty simple format. The Samaritan leper recognizes that he has been healed. He then screams to the heavens praising God for the gift. Then he falls at the feet of Jesus and gives thanks. The leper realizes that he has been healed by the power of God, mediated through Jesus.
Recognizing the presence of God in all the goodness we encounter and expressing gratitude for that goodness is what leads to our salvation. I suppose we could, like the other nine, freely accept the goodness that comes into our lives and simply enjoy it. We could experience being forgiven, being offered compassion and mercy, being loved and like the nine not acknowledge that this grace has its roots in God.
Gratitude, similar to the type shown by the Samaritan leper, gives us the very real opportunity to stop and truly notice those times God has taken an active role in our everyday lives. We can embrace his real presence among us as we wallow in his grace; his love. We hold in our hearts that our prayers, our wants, our desires have been acknowledged by God, addressed, and given life. Gratitude like this highlights God’s abundant and very personal love for each of us.
This works both ways. When we find that we are being charitable and kind, we should remember that it is precisely Christ within us, stirring our spirit so that we may act in a loving way. We should feel grateful for having an opportunity to be like Jesus and share his love.
Like the leper, we approach God’s altar in need of healing. Whether we care to share it or not, each one of us is carrying some type suffering. Like the leper, we seek to be restored. Let us prayerfully, with gratitude in our hearts, open ourselves to Christ’s mercifully healing embrace.