Readings: 1 Kings 8:55-61; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 17:11-19
Earlier this week, my sister emailed me pictures of a storybook that my niece, Molly, wrote for a second grade school project. It was a story about an unnamed boy and girl – who were certainly the author and her older brother Danny! The boy and the girl were having a discussion, and later an argument, about what they wanted to be when they grew up. At some point, they were called to dinner, and the table was set with their favorite meal: pizza and fries. I briefly wondered what my sister had been giving the kids for dinner, but since I’m not a parent, I let it pass. They both enjoyed the meal and cleaned their plates and the boy said, “I want more.” He didn’t get more, of course, but the girl did. She asked nicely and thanked her mother, then she told her brother, “Use your manners.” The really scandalous part of this exchange is that I’ve heard the real girl demand more at the table without using her manners on more than one occasion!
Molly’s story came to mind when I was mulling over the Gospel for this evening. Because in some ways this story is deeply scandalous. That nine believers – people who should have known how to use their manners – failed to express their gratitude over a miracle that literally gave them back the life that leprosy took away from them is unthinkable. I’m almost willing to cut them a little slack, because when you look closely at the story, Jesus really didn’t say or do anything indicative of healing – all he did was say “Go show yourselves to the priests. Now, it was the priests’ job to take care of ritual purity, but I’m guessing they had seen priests about their illness in the past and obviously had not been healed. So I can see how they would have been confused, frustrated, and maybe even a little angry at Jesus’ response. But they absolutely could not have been confused about the fact that they had been healed. And yet the only one who thought to give thanks and praise to God was a Samaritan – a foreigner and a religious outcast who wasn’t expected to know the religious etiquette that one should follow.
What may in fact be most scandalous for us, of course, is that this story, like so many Gospel vignettes, can be a bit like looking into a mirror. How often have we been oblivious to the grace that has taken us out of a bad situation? How often have we forgotten to “use our manners” and give God the thanks and praise, which he is due? So the tug of the Gospel here is not just that we look at the story and give that Samaritan a pat on the back and a “shame on you” to the other nine. The tug of the Gospel is that we would hear the message and use it as a lens to examine our lives, and a framework for reforming our lives. Like the Samaritan, we are called to bring Jesus our need for healing, and to receive what’s given to us in the spirit in which it is offered. Then, of course, we are called to give God thanks and praise, with all our heart and soul.
Bringing Jesus our need for healing may be the hardest part. First off, we have to know that we need healing and we need to be ready to accept it the way we get it. Then we have to trust God to do it. God is not too small to deal with the issues that confront us, nor is he too big to care about them. Too often, I think we really don’t ask for enough from God. Not that we don’t come to him with countless petitions, some of which, quite frankly, it’s a good thing if we don’t get them. God is not, after all, a genie in a bottle who goes about granting all of our wishes. Contrary to what some may think, our prosperity in this life isn’t necessarily at the top of God’s priority list, especially if that’s not what he thinks would be helpful to our salvation.
But I think the problem can be that we don’t ask for enough: we don’t ask for grace to grow in holiness, motivation to eradicate patterns of sin, the courage to become saints, or the faith to move mountains. I think we get too comfortable with life the way it is, and besides, those things scare us, and so we often don’t trust God enough to give us what he wants for us, to give us that which would make us really, truly happy.
But what if we had the courage of the ten lepers and were to name our need and cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” – what would happen then? Maybe then, if we’re attentive enough, we might see spiritual growth, realize the Lord’s presence as we walk through life, and truly become a thankful people. I guess I’m hoping that there’s somewhat better of a one-in-ten shot at it; that we as believers would be more willing to attribute the miracle to God rather than our own efforts or some kind of cosmic serendipity. Because people in need of healing must always be ready to be grateful. And it’s amazing what gratitude does for your spiritual life.
Grateful people live differently. Grateful people look for the blessing in every moment, they hunt for the grace constantly at work in their lives. They are like radios which are powered on so that they can receive the broadcast. When you’re grateful, it’s amazing how much more you seem to be blessed. Only it’s not necessarily that you’re blessed more; instead it’s that you’re more aware of the blessing. Thankful people are happier with their lives, because they’re simply more aware of what God is doing, how God is leading them, and they feel the touch of God’s hand leading them through life. Being grateful is a choice, but it’s a choice worth making, it’s a choice that makes our lives richer and more beautiful every day.
So how do we become thankful people. As I mentioned, gratitude is a choice, so I think it’s something we have to do intentionally. A good spiritual practice is to spend some time at the end of every day reflecting on the day gone by. Think about all the events and encounters of the day, and particularly note the ones that have been blessed in some way. When have you experienced an interaction that was far more pleasant than you’d expected? Or when did someone say just the thing you needed to hear? When were you able to accomplish something that you never thought you could or be in the right place to help someone at the right time? Then, like the Samaritan, fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him.
Thanksgiving should not simply be a one-day-a-year event for us. The believer’s life should be regularly marked by thanksgiving. We, after all, worship a God who, as Solomon says in our first reading, keeps his promises. We are the ones, as Saint Paul reminds us, have been consecrated, set aside for redemption by the Blood of our Lord. We have every reason to be thankful, and we know how to “use our manners.” May the grace of giving thanks find us growing in blessing every day of our lives.