What if you woke up today with only the things that you thanked God for yesterday? One of our Academy teachers shared this quote with me a couple of years ago and I have it on a Post-It note in the rectory. It is a philosophical question but it underscores the importance of gratitude. When we are grateful our world opens up and we are put in touch with the things like kindness, compassion, service and mercy—just to name a few – that others extend to us. When we are truly grateful to God, we are put in touch with a profound sense of grounding, because one of the most important spiritual exercises is to realize that everything we have is a gift from God.
The importance of gratitude is underscored in this week’s gospel passage from Luke. The passage is a classic from the third Gospel that it is set up by Jesus on a journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus’ travel toward the ultimate destination of Jerusalem is the major theme of the Gospel.
This particular part of his journey takes him into hostile Samaritan territory. The region is populated by people who disagree with mainstream Jews over some religious concepts. Just like our world today, disagreements about God and religion dominate motivation for war. As he travels, Jesus encounters 10 lepers who realize that he might be able to heal them. In typical fashion, there is no physical contact or even touch by Jesus with the lepers, only a command that they show themselves to the priests. There is then no physical contact with the priests, because the passage tells us, “On their way they were healed.” Only one leper—the Samaritan, returns to give thanks to Jesus for healing.
Jesus’ question then might give us reflective fodder. Where are the other nine? Are they celebrating with their friends? Are they busy building a new way of life? Are they focused on convincing people that they don’t need to be isolated anymore? Are they still on their way to the priest? Perhaps they don’t really believe that it was Jesus who healed them. Where are they?
Whatever they are doing, it is more important than thanking Jesus. Maybe some of them just didn’t connect the compassionate power of Jesus Christ with their healing. Maybe some of them didn’t connect the physical part of healing with the spiritual part. Who knows?
Our theologian friend Jack Shea tells us, “Gratitude is the language of interdependence.” I take this to mean that it doesn’t simply connect us, but it is so powerful that it makes us share dependence. There is an ongoing nurturing of the relationship between the one grateful Samaritan leper with Jesus. The other nine have no ongoing relationship with him, they are not interdependent. Their legacy is forgotten. The grateful one has a legacy of gratitude. He is no longer primarily a Samaritan or a leper or a former leper—he is grateful. This all sets up the classic faith statement in healing events such as this one as Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” The Samaritan leper is healed because he believes in Jesus Christ. I am betting that the other lepers were cured but never received the profound and deep sense of healing that only comes from our interdependence on Jesus Christ.
This is just one story that grounds us all in the most important celebration of gratitude—namely, the Eucharist. As you probably know, Eucharist is a Greek word that means ‘to give thanks.’ It is an active word. In the celebration of the Eucharist we are GIVING God thanks, and in the process giving each other thanks. It comes from the importance of gathering, singing, telling stories, acknowledging the life changing presence of the Holy Spirit that transforms us as well as the simple elements of bread and wine. In doing so, we all have the opportunity to realize that Christ’s REAL presence in our midst is the greatest gift from our loving God. God is giving us REAL Jesus in the prayerful, reverent, vibrant action of the Eucharist. If that isn’t something to be grateful for, I don’t know what is!!
Let’s make sure that we regularly thank God for what we have. If we come to Mass and are overwhelmed with what is wrong in our lives, let’s heed the invitation to GIVE thanks to God for what we have. If we don’t feel particularly grateful at any point in time—think and pray some more—we can always find many things to be grateful for. In doing so we will be like the one Samaritan leper, returning to Jesus in gratitude. Consequently, we won’t be like the other nine of whom Jesus asks, “Where are they?”.
The thankful spirit of the Samaritan leper can also be extended to us here at Holy Family. We are blessed with so many things, including countless dedicated and generous people; a warm and welcoming spirit; vibrant, engaging liturgies; a passionate community committed to life-long learning; young people excited about their faith; cutting edge adult program; outreach that exemplifies the social justice teachings of our faith; support ministries for a wide range of those in need; and a beautiful campus that enables almost all of the other activities.
On a regular basis when visitors join us for prayer or other presentations they are so impressed with what we have here. Let’s return thanks to the source of it all—God.