Bishop Kasomo Daniel once told the story of Harry Ironside, the great American Bible teacher, who went into a restaurant. Just as he was about to begin his meal, a man approached and asked if he could join him. Harry invited him to the meal. In his usual tradition, Harry bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked whether he had a headache which must have made him bend down but he replied in the negative. The man asked whether anything was wrong with the food but he replied also in the negative rather he said ‘I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.”
The man said, ‘I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by my sweat. As such I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat’. Harry replied to him, ‘you’re just like my dog. That’s what he does too, he never gives thanks’.
Today’s readings are the exaltation of the virtue of gratitude as seen both in the first and Gospel readings. Nevertheless, like Harry’s dog, the nine lepers who did not come back to give thanks may have individually had the following thoughts:
- ‘I think we need to wait and see if the cure is for real if it would last”,
- “Besides, there’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.”
- “Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place; it only seemed to be leprosy”,
- “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well someday,”
- “I told you, brothers, that if you think positively that you will be well”,
- “Jesus didn’t really do anything special; any rabbi could have done it”,
- “Now that we are okay, we don’t still need him”,
- “What we need now is the temple priest, the one who can declare us clean”,
- “Jesus said, to go to the priest. He would be mad with us if we return to him now.”
Fortunately, there is the tenth leper who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He is a Samaritan, a foreigner. Probably he would not have been able to go to the priest whose duty it was to certify they were medically fit to come out in the open and join the societal activities because the priest would not minister to him.
He does not belong to the “right” religion. He is regarded as a lawless sinner because he does not observe the Jewish Law. Thus he decided to return back to Jesus who would give him attention.
A gift isn’t yours until you say thank you or show gratitude. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth than to have a thankless child. People who have no gratitude in their souls never enjoy what they already have. Nothing gives them joy or happiness. Life, for them, is painted in shades of dull gray. They live colorless lives. They are boring, drab, and dreary. There’s no color in their character.
You can see it in their vacant eyes. In the next stage of our journey into the abyss of hell, we find those who are never satisfied with anything they have and are never satisfied with anything others around them does. No one is good enough for them because they are no good for anyone else.
Peace and contentment are driven by their hearts and souls. They’re always agitated, whining, and complaining. They become very disagreeable, argumentative, self-opinionated, self-important, self-righteous, and thoroughly self-centered.
Jealousy and competitiveness set in. They’re always comparing themselves with others particularly in terms of what they feel they are lacking. They ignore what they have, overlooking the good things that are theirs. Blaming God comes next. The ungrateful blames God for not having all the things they want, for not being successful, for not being happy, and for anything and everything that’s wrong in their lives. Finally, ungrateful people eventually fill their empty souls with self-pity. They become self-pitying whiners. They end up living in their own hell of loneliness and isolated bitterness.
Today we are faced with a good element of faith-element of thanks-giving. When the Samaritan that was cured of leprosy, he came back to thank Jesus. Jesus says: Your faith has saved you! The element of faith that we need to look at today is thankfulness and appreciation to God which most often is reflected in our communal services, like the Eucharist. Our Gospel acclamation summarizes this theme today as it often does: “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”.
The gospel today highlights the fact that it is a foreigner who shows gratitude to God, not the other nine. At the time of Jesus, leprosy would have been thought of as AIDS is by many today. Lepers had to keep their distance from people and villages.
They usually had a bell in which they rang warning others of their presence. Even though the disease of leprosy was terrible, eating away into the flesh until eventually killing the leper there were other perhaps worse aspects associated with being a leper. They were cut off socially from their families, their village, from attending synagogue worship. Simply they were regarded as outcasts, outsiders. One could imagine that they would have had little self-esteem.
This element of thanksgiving was manifest in the first reading. Naaman was disappointed and expected this “man of God,” Elisha, to perform a much more dramatic sign. Naaman even doubted the advice that he had received from the prophet. With great reluctance, he finally gives in to the pleading of his servants to do what the prophet said.
Washing in the Jordan he was healed and his flesh became like that of a little child. The muddy waters cleansed Naaman of his leprosy — but even more so of his arrogance. Naaman did go and bathe 7 times and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. Thus he was so thankful, he asked to take back some earth to set up an altar in his homeland to the God of Elisha and promised he would make no offerings to any god but the God of Israel.
The lesson we can learn is to realize that gratitude, giving thanks, and being thank-full people, change us not God. We don’t give thanks in order to change God’s mind. The beatitude of thankfulness changes us; it changes our hearts, our outlook on life, and our relationships with others. It’s a truth that sets us free. Gratitude is the Beatitude. It changes how we live. With it we find happiness.
All 10 of the lepers were given the gift of healing, but in his gratitude to God for this gift, the Samaritan found salvation. Our salvation is found in recognizing the gifts we have been given and knowing to whom we must offer our thanks. ”Were not ten made whole?” Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” To the one who gave thanks He said: “Go on your way, your faith has saved you.” These words of Christ Jesus are spoken not just to a Samaritan of 2,000 years ago. They are spoken to you and to me.
Today Luke emphasizes something that may be overlooked. It happens that one of the lepers is a Samaritan, a foreigner and therefore someone who would have been looked down on by the Jewish people. However, Jesus shows no partiality. On the contrary, he seems to prefer marginalized and insignificant people. Luke, who in his gospel shows such sensitivity for the poor, does the same with the Samaritan.
These other lepers, most likely Jews, accept a Samaritan among them. Their common pain and tragedy brought them together just like these days the evil terrorist attacks bring people of all creeds, nationalities, and languages together in great displays of solidarity.
Many Christians today do not attend Sunday worship. More than anything, this is a sign that we have become an ungrateful people. This is so because the main reason why Christians come together on Sunday is to give thanks to God.
The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” If we count our blessing, if we realize that all is from above, then we shall be more likely to act like the Samaritan leper when he realized he was healed – to return with joy and give God thanks and praise – every Sunday. May we also learn to show gratitude to others around us when we receive some kind favors from them.
Join Sunday homily with Rev. Fr. Anacletus Ogbunkwu on www.anacletusogbunkwu.com