The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are tinged with sadness. “Were not 10 lepers healed? Where are the other nine?” His hope was that healing them would result in an ongoing relationship with them. He thought their healing would strike up a friendship or at least a grateful response that would mean he could share in their joy. Instead, they are heady with the healing and they race home, having won the jackpot! Healing meant a return to their communities. It meant belonging again. It meant a whole new life away from the isolation, loneliness and rejection that goes with the dreaded disease of leprosy. In their lack of gratitude for their healing, they forgot the one who had healed them. They may have shed the disease but their hearts were not completely healed because they failed to recognize the source of their healing.
The point of gratitude is that by acknowledging our good fortune as gift, it prevents us from the delusion that we somehow manufactured it ourselves. Our ego-driven self would like us to think it was always by our own efforts, talents and planning that good things come to us. We easily create distorted stories that prove we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and made ourselves who we are! Then we might be tempted to place ourselves in judgement over others in their weakness and fool ourselves into thinking we are superior!
I am reminded of a friend’s story of healing. He was on the gurney, about to enter the surgical room for open heart surgery. His doctor took a second look at his symptoms of an enlarged heart. The doctor suspected something else going on and ordered a few more tests. The results proved that my friend had a bacterial infection which only required an antibiotic instead of open heart surgery! This was a powerful moment in my friend’s journey. His gratitude has led him to appreciate each day as a gift and that is how he lives now. His gratitude to God (and the surgeon!) has made him an even more appreciative and loving person, ready to drink more from the well of his life. His heart was healed, both physically and spiritually.
The nine lepers were healed of their leprosy all right, but the complete healing of the heart was given to the one who returned to give Jesus thanks.
What a contrast this is to the Gospel story of the woman who is hemorrhaging and, after her initial healing by touching Jesus’ cloak, she is called out by Jesus and coming forward, she enters into a friendship with him. As she tells him her whole story, her healing is made complete.
Yes, there is a sadness in the voice of Jesus over the nine lepers who were healed but did not return to give thanks. This sadness is reminiscent of the time Jesus is looking over Jerusalem in a mournful way as he says: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I wished to gather you in as a hen takes in her chicks, but you would not.” The same sadness is evident when he is alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, needing company and compassion in his hour of distress, yet finding his followers fast asleep. “Will no one stay awake with me?” he asks. It is with the same sadness that Jesus looks down from the cross and prays; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But what is most amazing, is that through all the events of hostility, anger, rejection and indifference, Jesus continues to love with great hope that his love will make a difference. “I give thanks to you O Father of heaven and earth for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed to little children.”
Jesus’ own gratitude to his Father allows him to endure many disappointments. They do not weaken his resolve to give himself totally to others. Jesus is not a fair-weather friend! His lavish love is poured out on all and he acts as an inspiration to all who would find their love and generosity met with a negative reaction. “Love anyway!” he would want to say. Forgive, love, find help to hold onto patient endurance, and your loving will make a difference, even if you never see it!
So, in this time of cultural “thanksgiving,” a time when I might be asked by my children or grandchildren: “Why do we say grace at supper every day?” I hope I can remember this simple, but direct answer: “We are grateful to God for all the gifts that are showered upon us, especially this food that we eat. It reminds us that all life is a gift. We are gift to each other, and we are hard-wired to be grateful to Jesus for everything! So bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, our Lord, Amen!”
Williston is a retired parish life director for the Diocese of Saskatoon and a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.