Luke 17:11-19
Faith and Gratitude
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

Home Page
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index

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."

Human beings were built for faith in God. We were very intentionally fashioned by God to be in relationship with him. Consequently, we are terribly incomplete and our hearts are restless until we find God or, more accurately, let ourselves be found by God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength” (#1).

It should not shock us when the ten lepers in today’s Gospel turn to Jesus. Their battle with this horrible disease has helped them learn about their dependence on God — that is, that they are not masters of the universe. Nor are they masters of their own little portion of the universe. The lepers have come to grasp that God is the giver and the master of our lives and that he can restore them to newness of life.

A careful look at this passage reveals beautiful signs of faith in God. At the start, the Evangelist Luke states that the ten remain at a distance from Our Lord. While this could be a reflection of the cultural norms of the day for lepers to avoid contact with the world, it could additionally point to something else. To stand at a distance also echoes Jesus’ description of the tax collector who goes up to pray in the temple: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner'” (Lk 18:13). The lepers recognized that they were in the presence of a holy man, maybe even God himself, so they humbly remained at a short distance.

Additionally, the lepers call Jesus “Master” and beg for mercy. To have mercy is to see a need and to respond with kindness and generosity. It may mean to extend forgiveness, but it can mean addressing a variety of physical, psychological or spiritual needs. In this instance, they were asking to be set free from the ravages of Hansen’s disease.

Jesus sees their genuine faith and wonderfully grants them their request. The exhortation to show themselves to the priests was the standard process of being restored to full participation in religious and civil life. The priests had to confirm the healing from leprosy which enabled them to live again in town and worship in the temple.

The faith of the ten lepers is worth pondering today.

Gratitude stands out in this parable as well. “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.”

Gratitude is an enormously important human virtue. It starts with the realization of our blessings, an intentional act that requires effort and attention. The healed leper then “returns.” He changes the direction of his journey and returns to the one who bestowed great mercy. The next move is to glorify God, acknowledging that God is the source of this precious grace. The newly cleansed leper thanks Jesus from his knees. This is a striking expression of gratitude.

Finally, Jesus turns to this humble, faith-filled, thankful human being and says, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Go. Go tell your family, friends and neighbors the marvels God the Father has done for you. Go proclaim my mercy to those who do not believe. Go live a life full of faith and gratitude. Go be merciful, in turn, to your neighbor.

Today, a leper invites us to ask God to increase our faith. Today, a leper models for us the beauty of genuine gratitude. When was the last time you pondered your many blessings, fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him?