Luke 17:11-19
The Loss of a Sense of Gratitude
by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Luke wrote to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

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."

In the Gospel this Sunday, when only one of the 10 lepe3rs healed by Christ returned to offer his homage of thanks, Christ is quick to express His disappointment: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  Apparently the expression of gratitude is in short supply, only one in 10.  Upon reflection, it seems fair to suggest the 90 percent Gospel ratio of ingratitude generally applies to most population groups, Jew or gentile.  Recent popes have lamented a “loss of the sense of sin” in the world.  But there seems to be a correlative “loss of a sense of gratitude.”

It likely takes a generation before children become aware of the debt of gratitude they owe their parents for the sacrifices made on their behalf.  Certainly a child is a “gift” but a child is also a “burden,” dependent upon parents.  It’s a good guess that it takes the burden of our own children to remind us of how we, as children, represented the same burden to our parents.  (It is important to recognize that child-rearing isn’t easy lest the grave and most difficult responsibility of correctly raising children is overlooked.  Furthermore, after being “burdened” with children, parents in their twilight years in need of love and support of their children should bear no guilt in becoming a “burden” – financial or otherwise – to their children.  As a matter of natural justice, we should expect what goes around comes around.)

College scholarships often are awarded more for financial need than academic ability even though a baseline of academic ability usually is required.  Yet most of us who have received scholarships tend to delight in our intellectual acumen rather than recall the generosity of benefactors.  Similarly, as many pastors would attest, as costly as Catholic education is to families, tuition and fees cover only a fraction of the real per-student cost.  A good deal of the cost of educating children in Catholic schools is covered by generous (often elderly) parishioners anonymous to their young beneficiaries.  Such failures of gratitude may extend well into adulthood and, sadly, may never be internally addressed.  At root, at best, is thoughtlessness: We are simply oblivious to the gifts we have received.  At worst, it is the morally corrosive – and widely observable – entitlement mentality:  We deserve it and we’re offended when we don’t get it.

Priests, too, are not immune from the entitlement mentality.  After spending a life in the service of Christ and His church, there can be a tendency to consider the many perquisites provided by benefactors as well-deserved.  Of course (as priests often cite) Christ teaches us “the workman is worth his keep” (Mat 10:10) and St. Paul adds, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18).  But there are limits, and identification of those limits can be vexing without the spirit of thanksgiving.

We may insist, “I worked hard for what I have and I deserve what I have,” but the assertion overlooks an important caveat.  The very ability to work hard is itself a gift – perhaps a gift of sound parental training, a supportive social environment and cultural pattern, as well as the inner strength that comes from God.  Additionally, we are surrounded with gifts from God, gifts we do not often acknowledge: the air we breathe; good health; life itself and all of creation.  “When thou sendest forth the Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth” (Ps 104).

The Gospel account of the healing of the 10 lepers is also a profound metaphor for the primary ministry of Christ – the forgiveness of the “leprosy” of sin makes salvation possible.  The physical healing of the leper was simply an outward sign of forgiveness of sin, a miracle that stirred up a sense of gratitude in one of them.  After searching for Christ to render his thanksgiving, Christ reveals to him – and us – a gift greater than physical healing: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Gratitude is the key to salvation.

It is no accident that “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”  When we offer Mass, we are at once expressing our dependence upon God for the forgiveness of our sins and our profound thanks for His intervention into history to save us.  The loss of the sense of sin has led to a crisis of our sense of absolute dependence upon God, and a crisis in authentic gratitude.  It is a crisis that puts our very salvation at risk.  We would do well to rediscover how we are all dependent upon God – and one another – begging forgiveness for our transgressions and rejoicing in gratitude for the mighty deeds of God.

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