In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus met ten lepers who pleaded with Him for help. Jesus did not immediately heal them, but instructed them to go and show themselves to the priests. According to Jewish law only the priests could declare a person “clean” and allow him to re-enter society.
These lepers, still ravaged by the disease, left to find the priests. As they traveled they were miraculously healed. It was their faith in Jesus’ words that did it.
But that is only part of the story. One of the ten lepers, when he realized he had been cured, came back to find Jesus. (This leper, by the way, was a Samaritan, which made him a double outcast.) When he found the Lord, the leper praised God in a loud voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus in worship.
Jesus said, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
The reading this week offers us an important lesson about gratitude. Last week’s gospel made the point that God does not owe gratitude to us simply because we are doing our duty. We are the ones who have received undeserved gifts from the Lord: mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. Therefore, we, and not God, should be the ones expressing gratitude.
Today’s reading directly follows last week’s reading in the 17th chapter of Luke. It is meant to reinforce the concept of gratitude by showing us a clear-cut example. Gratitude is not only the proper attitude we should have when we receive blessings, it is also the ONLY attitude that will produce happiness.
There are people in our society who have been truly blessed; they are healthy and wealthy, and have all kinds of wonderful opportunities most people can only dream about. And yet, many of them have very little gratitude. As a result, they are miserable most of the time. They complain and moan and find fault with everyone and everything.
On the other hand, there are some people who seemingly have been dealt a lousy hand by life. They have a lot of problems and struggles. They have little money, and maybe suffer from serious health issues. But they are grateful for what they do have, and they are especially grateful to God for helping them through the rough times. As a result, they are truly happy and content.
In the gospel reading, all ten lepers had a certain amount of faith in Jesus. They all did as He instructed before any healing had occurred. It was this faith—this trust in what was yet unseen—that removed their disease.
But having faith in Jesus, though the first and most important aspect of the Christian life, is only part of the whole experience. Offering praise and thanksgiving and gratitude to God for who He is and what He has done for us also is crucial. Only the one Samaritan leper did this, and only he was made truly happy.
All ten lepers were healed physically, but only the one Samaritan was also healed spiritually. His gratitude healed his soul after his faithful trip to the priests had healed his body. Since our souls are eternal while our bodies are only temporary, you could make the case that spiritual ingratitude is a worse condition than physical leprosy.
We should model the Samaritan leper’s behavior. If it has been a while since we praised God in a loud voice and threw ourselves at the feet of Jesus in worship, maybe we should try it. We, not God, will benefit the most. This expression of gratitude will make us truly happy.