Winston Churchill loved to tell the story of the little boy who fell off a berth into deep ocean water. An older sailor, dove into the stormy water, struggled with the boy, and finally, brought him to safety. Two days later the boy’s mother came with him to the same berth, seeking the sailor who rescued her son. Finding him, she asked, “You dove into the ocean to bring my boy out?” “I did,” he replied. The mother angrily demanded, “Then where’s his hat?” In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the story of nine ungrateful lepers.
The story of ‘the forgetful lepers’ presents a God Who desires gratitude from us for the many blessings we receive from Him, and Who feels pain at our ingratitude.
Jesus was on the border between Galilee and Samaria where He was met by a band of ten lepers, including among one Samaritan among the Jews. “Leprosy” was a terrible disease because its victims were separated from their families and society. They were treated as sinners who were being punished by God with a transmittable disease. They were considered unclean, unfit to be counted among a people who considered themselves “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation”
The Mosaic Law demands that a) the priest shall declare the leper unclean; b) the leper shall keep his garments rent and his head bare; c) he shall muffle his beard; d) he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’; and e) he shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.
As a general rule, when a Jewish leper was healed, he had to go to the local priest for public confirmation that he was now clean and was permitted to return home and mix with the general public.
A Samaritan is the hero in today’s Gospel passage. The thanks and praise of the Samaritan was a natural response to the free and undeserved mercy of God. He simply asked for it and it was freely given. Having accepted God’s grace, thanks and praise was his natural response.
There is an interesting story about two Angels who were sent to the Earth. The cries and petitions of the people reach the doorsteps of Heaven constantly. So once God decided that he should send the angels to the Earth to collect them directly from the people. Thus, two angels were sent to the Earth with carry bags. One was commissioned to collect all the petitions, and the other was asked to collect gratitude. The angel that was collecting the petitions found the bag full in minutes and flew up to heaven many times. But the angel that was collecting gratitude could not even fill a bag.
We need to learn to be thankful to God and to others. We can express our gratitude to our loving and providing God by offering grace before meals and by allotting a few minutes of the day for family prayer.
Let us show our gratitude to our forgiving God by forgiving others, and to a loving God by radiating His love, mercy and compassion to others, including our families and friends. It is by taking good care of our old and sick parents that we express our gratitude to them for the loving sacrifices they made in raising us.
We need to celebrate the Holy Eucharist as the supreme act of thanksgiving. The Greek word “Eucharist” means profoundly religious and thoroughly spiritual “thanksgiving.” When we celebrate Holy Mass together, we are thanking God for giving us the great gift of His Son in the Holy Eucharist so that we can share His Divine life and recharge our spiritual batteries, and for giving us His teaching, guiding and strengthening Holy Spirit.
Although we may not suffer from physical leprosy, the “spiritual leprosy” of sin makes us unclean. Just as the lepers cried out to Jesus for healing, let us also ask Him to heal us from the spiritual leprosy of sins including impurity, injustice, hatred and prejudice.
It was Thanksgiving season in the nursing home. The small resident population had been gathered around their humble Thanksgiving table, and the director asked each in turn to express one thing for which he or she was thankful. One little old lady, when her turn came, said, “I thank the Lord for two perfectly good teeth left in my mouth, one in my upper jaw and one in my lower jaw. They match so well that I can chew my food.”
Let us express our thanks to God as a parish community by sharing our time, talents and material blessings in the various ministries and services of the parish and by our active participation in its outreach programs in the community.