by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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."
Jesus bestows an abundance of healing grace upon 10 lepers in today's Gospel. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded realities in the world when Jesus walked this earth. It led to a long, slow and painful death. Lepers were banished from society and lived outside of town with other lepers because their disease was communicable and there was no cure. In addition, they were considered religious outcasts because, at the time of Christ, leprosy was commonly (yet falsely) understood to be a punishment from God for personal sins. Lepers truly led a miserable life.
One of the lepers, ironically a Samaritan, returns after being cured to thank Jesus. He glorifies God in a loud voice and falls at the feet of Jesus to express his gratitude. This act of thanksgiving is beautiful and fitting for the gift that was bestowed. Jesus praises him for this humble, heartfelt act.
At the same time, Jesus sadly asks, "Where are the other nine?" We can imagine what might have happened to some of them. Maybe they went home and got caught up in family celebrations. Maybe some went into town, bought new clothes and grabbed a meal at the inn. All nine probably thought, "I will thank the Lord later." Regardless, they failed to return to Christ, give glory to God and thank the one who relieved them of this dreaded disease.
This is a terrible sad element of this story. Shakespeare said it this way,, "Blow, blow, thou winter's cold. Thou art not so unkind as man's ingratitude." My mother had a great line of her own, "Sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child." Most of us have so much for which to be eternally grateful: life itself, family, friends, faith, gifts and talents, every heartbeat, every breath, every meal set before us and the forgiveness of our sins. Thanksgiving should flow constantly from our hearts; it needs to be a way of life for Christians.
Another angle to consider on today's healing is that physical realities and events in the Gospels regularly point to deeper, more spiritual realities. As the Divine Physician, Jesus is most generously committed to offering spiritual healing to all who approach him. While he consistently heals the flock from a variety of physical and emotional ills, he does not heal everyone from such afflictions. On the other hand, he always extends spiritual healing. Everyone who approached Jesus with faith came away healed spiritually. They encountered his personal love for them, were forgiven their sins and set free from the chains that result from sin, found strength to repair broken relationships, received a mission to use their gifts to build his kingdom, and were granted an ultimate purpose of receiving the blessed life of heaven. Two thousand years of Christian history have proven that sometimes God heals us physically; always, God heals us spiritually.
Finally, it is fitting to say a word about the Eucharist. The celebration of the Mass is a spectacular way to render thanks to God for his countless blessings. At its heart, the Mass is an act of profound thanksgiving to God the Father for every blessing he has bestowed upon us as a loving Father, but most principally for sending his only begotten Son to redeem the world. "Eucharist" comes from the Greek word "to give things." On Sunday, we gather as God's family at Mass for a variety of great reasons, including to lavish upon God deep gratitude for his love, his gift of life, his most generous mercy, his powerful healing, his precious gift of faith and the good people he sends into our lives.
K. Chesterton, in his book, "St. Francis of Assist," praised the bearded,
barefooted poor man for being a Christian committed to the fine art of
thanksgiving: "For this is the full and final spirit in which we should turn to
St. Francis: in the spirit of thanks for what he has done. He was above
all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which
is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he
may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of
gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and
depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realize that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist."
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.