The Ancient Curse of Leprosy
Leprosy was the curse of the ancient world. If there was one thing that you did not want to catch it was leprosy. There was no cure and it was a vicious disease. Physically, one would slowly watch themselves deteriorate as the painful disease progressed. These people were rightly called the “walking dead” as they slowly succumbed to the inevitable death that awaited them. And that wasn’t all. Mentally and emotionally it was devastating too. Since there was no cure, the law at that time was that anyone with this contagious disease must immediately be cut off from society. They were pushed to the outskirts of the town far away from family and friends and a normal life. Internally they suffered from abandonment and loneliness.
The Lepers were Given a Second Chance at Life
As Jesus was passing through the region of Galilee and Samaria, ten Lepers cried out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” He stopped and told them to go at once to show themselves to the priests and as they went, the scriptures indicate, they were made clean. Can you imagine what this would have meant for these people? In an instant, their lives were changed, their death sentence was removed; they could go back home, see their families, and continue life as normal. In some sense, this miraculous cleansing was even more impactful than if they would have been raised from the dead! These 10 were spared the bitter pain that awaited them and were given new life. Yet, despite this amazing change of direction, only one bothered to come back to thank Jesus after the priests had officially declared them “clean”.
The Deck is Stacked Against Gratitude, the Odds are Only One in Ten
On one level, the message of this account is simple: to give thanks for the blessings we receive. Yet, I think there is another insight that is just as important, maybe more. The nine who never came back were likely Hebrews, men of faith, sons of Abraham and Moses. This is why Jesus is amazed that only the Samaritan, someone who’s faith was seen as lacking and impure, actually came back. I think it would be very easy for you and I to think like those Hebrews, after all we are supposed to be the people of faith. Maybe we sometimes promise ourselves, “If God were to do something great in my life, then I would thank him, I would make the time.” Yet, the chilling lesson of this story is that even if he did something great, we probably wouldn’t thank him. In that account the odds were only one in ten.
So How Do we Shuffle the Deck for Better Odds?
So how do we make sure that we don’t become like those nine ungrateful lepers? I would like to propose that the key to gratitude in big things is to start by saying thank you for the small things. What thing are you grateful for this thanksgiving weekend?
We are Grateful for Family
Probably for many of us, we think of our family and friends. No doubt they have been a great blessing for us. We talk to them, text and email, spend time together and are encouraged by their friendship. Further, they make us joyful and fill us with laughter. They help us out in so many ways. We can thank them for this.
We are Grateful for Faith
As we are here today in this Church, perhaps we also desire to give thanks to God.
i. First we give thanks that we have been lucky enough to have had the Gospel preached to us. Many today haven’t had this opportunity, it really is a privilege.
ii. Further, we know the story of Jesus, how the Father sent him into the world. How he grew up, preached and taught the people, and then how he suffered, died, and rose on the third day to redeem us and save us from our sins. Oh, how we have been loved!
iii. In addition, before the Lord’s ascension, he left us the Church. The Catholic Church traces it’s roots back to the promise of the Lord to St. Peter. It is forever guided by the Holy Spirit and is the only certain source of the authentic teachings of Jesus in their fullness.
iv. Each Sunday we gather for the Holy Mass, it’s something almost routine for us. Today is a good opportunity to think back on how the Mass has helped us and brought us closer to God. What a great privilege it is to receive Jesus truly present in the Holy Communion.
v. Also, we are grateful for the Sacrament of Confession where we receive God’s life changing mercy, not just in a general way, but in such a particular and personal way that it goes straight to the heart.
vi. The Lord gave us the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model disciple and as our Spiritual Mother.
vii. Finally, I want to thank each of you. The witness of your faith is a great inspiration and encouragement for me and it makes me want to be a better priest each day.
A Challenge for Those who want to take Gratitude to the Next Level
Now, for some of you, you might be thinking, “ok, we need to be thankful, I already knew that. In fact, it’s the same thing you said last year … and the year before that.” For these and those who are ready, I want to challenge you to take gratitude to the next level. What I’m about to say is not easy, in fact it’s very difficult. The next step is to give thanks to God for the crosses in your life, to say thank you not just for the blessings but also for the difficult moments. This isn’t easy, but it’s good.
Thank God for the Crosses in Your Life
i. First, we always remember that no matter what cross we carry or what difficulty we encounter, we know that Jesus is with us, that he walks with us as an “accompanying presence.” We can thank him for this.
ii. Next, it is sometimes the case that through difficulties there are important lessons that we can learn that help us grow as people. In a sense crosses can be opportunities to grow in faith, trust, and maybe even to just help us see the world in a different way. We can give thanks for this.
iii. And, in every cross, no matter how big, there is always something that we can be grateful for. I think of my visits to the hospital sometimes where someone is very sick or even dying, yet they are so grateful that in the midst of this, their family is there with them. For them, this is just as important as what they suffer.
The Startling Image of Christ Embracing the Cross
One of my favorite images of this is captured in some paintings and also in the Passion of the Christ movie. There is this strange image of Jesus embracing the cross. Why does he do this? It’s not meant in a sick way, as if he enjoys pain and torture. Rather, it’s meant in the way that he knew what was happening, that it would be through this cross that we would be saved and that the cross would forever be remembered as the greatest act of love in the history of the world. For this reason Jesus reached for the cross and he loved the cross.
This is definitely not easy to do, but I think that gratitude does help us to endure trials and get through them better.
Gratitude is important. In the words of the Gospel passage for today you can sense the sadness on the face of Christ when he says, “Ten were cleansed … where are the other nine?” I think that we here can do better than the one in nine odds that those lepers had. For each of us we can begin by giving thanks for all of the little things in our lives so that when the big blessings come, we will be ready to come back to Jesus with the leper, “glorifying God with a loud voice … and thanking him.”