II Kgs 5: 14-17; II Tm 2: 8-13; Lk 17: 11-19
A foursome of senior golfers hit the course with waning enthusiasm for the sport. “These fairways seem to be getting longer and longer,” said one of the foursome. “And these hills are getting steeper as the years go by,” another complained. “The sand traps seem to be bigger than I remember them, too,” said the third senior. After hearing enough from his buddies, the oldest, and the wisest of the four of them at 87 years old, piped up and said, “Oh my friends, just be thankful we’re still on this side of the grass!”
The central theme of today’s readings is gratitude – in particular, the expression of gratitude God expects from us. Naaman, the Syrian military General in the first reading, was not only an outcast because of his illness; he was also a non-Israelite. But he returned to thank the Prophet Elisha for the cure, and as a sign of his gratitude, transferred his allegiance to the God of Israel.
Today’s Gospel story tells us of a single non-Jewish leper (a “Samaritan heretic”), who returned to thank Jesus for healing him, while the nine Jewish lepers went their way under the false impression that healing was their right as God’s chosen people. They did not seem to feel indebted to Jesus or to God for the singular favor they had received. Instead, they hurried off to obtain a health certificate from the priests. “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked the Samaritan leper and the crowd. “Did only one come back to say ‘thank you?’”
If there is one sin that most prevalent today, it is the sin of ingratitude. God does so much for us. Our indebtedness to him is enormous and yet we rarely or at least infrequently offer thanks for what he has done. In fact, most professing Christians don’t even offer thanks over their meals much less offer thanks over all that God does in their lives. We are much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought and handed the orange back and said, “Peel it.”
For a child of God thankfulness is not confined to a day or a season, it is an attitude that we should have every day and every hour.
On the first year of my ordination, a young teenager asked me to bless his new photo studio. 10 years later when I was at home year before last year, he met me and asked me: “Do you remember Father that you blessed my Photo Studio. I can’t forget that day. I still have your photo framed in my studio hanging.” How nice when people remember and thank us for the kindness shown to them. The happy side of being a priest is this; we get more thank you cards from all age group after a baptism, wedding or funeral, after Sunday Mass every weekend or just being there with the family in times of joys and sorrows. Once a while I come across also people who just walk away just like the 9 lepers in the gospel.
Byron Dell grew up on a farm in Nebraska. When he was eight years old, he had a pony named Frisky. Sometimes the pony lived up to its name. One morning when Byron was getting the cows, Frisky bolted off at a breakneck speed. Byron held on for dear life, and he emerged unhurt. That night Byron’s father accompanied him upstairs to bed and asked his son to kneel with him and thank God that he was not hurt. There, beside Byron’s bed, the two knelt as his father prayed out loud a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving to God. That incident happened 55 years ago, but Byron never forgot it. It moved him deeply and gave him a greater appreciation of his father. Above all, it taught him to be grateful. And ever since, he has made gratitude to God a regular part of his life.
In conclusion, today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves two things: First, to which group of people do we belong? Do we belong to those who are grateful, like the Samaritan? Or do we belong to those who are ungrateful, like the other nine lepers who were healed? Second, if we are adults, are we teaching our children to be grateful to God? Or is this something we are perhaps, overlooking in the rat race of modern life?
“O God, you have given us so much. Give us one thing more – a grateful heart”