“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”
Jesus worked many miracles of healing during His earthly ministry and we can safely assume that many of those who received His healings were grateful. The centurion whose servant was healed in Mt 8:5-13, the woman who had a hemorrhage for 12 years that was healed by touching Jesus’ tassel in Mk 5:25-34, the synagogue official’s daughter in Lk 8:40-56, to name a few of them, must have been grateful for their miraculous healings received from Jesus. It is hard to imagine these people as ungrateful.
What about the nine Jewish lepers cleansed in Sunday’s Gospel? The Gospel does not indicate that they were ungrateful to Jesus for their cleansing. Can’t we safely assume that they too were grateful for their cleansing and ability to reconnect with loved ones and society? But the question is, “How did they express their gratitude?” Maybe they expressed their gratitude by reestablishing contact with family and friends. However, the Samaritan leper expressed his own gratitude by “returning (to Jesus), glorifying God in a loud voice, falling at the feet of Jesus and thanking Him.” He had many reasons not to return to Jesus, knowing himself to be a Samaritan and despised by the Jews. But he chose to make his thanksgiving complete by letting it end in a personal worship of God in and through Jesus Christ. In whatever way that the other nine may have expressed their gratitude for their healing, their gratitude remains incomplete because it did not lead them to return to Jesus to give personal worship of God through Him.
The Second Reading from the Book of Kings shows Naaman the Aramean army commander who initially refuses to listen to the Prophet Elisha to wash in the Jordan seven times for the cleansing of his leprosy. However, upon obeying the prophet, his skin is cleansed of leprosy. Naaman’s gratitude is first of all expressed in praising the God of Israel, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” He expressed his gratitude by offering a gift to the Prophet Elisha. But when the Prophet refused his gift, Naaman asks for some earth so that he could build a sanctuary to the living God in his home place of Aram where sacrifices can be offered to the God of the Prophet Elisha. Ancient deities were never worshipped on alien soil. In securing this earth from Israel, Naaman shows his full conversion and vows to no longer “offer holocaust of sacrifice to any other God except to the Lord.” He shows how complete his gratitude is by choosing to personally worship the God of Israel alone from henceforth.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we can express our gratitude to God in many ways. But our own gratitude to God for all His blessings in this life is never complete until it involves a returning to offer personal worship to God through Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Why is our gratitude incomplete without this personal worship of God in and through Jesus Christ? True humility makes us realize the infinite greatness of God and our own nothingness such that our thanks and praise to God are of no value before God unless they are offered in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has humbled Himself to become one like us so as to gather our own praise and thanks to the Father, unite them to His own perfect praise and thanksgiving and offer them to the Father so as to obtain graces of salvation for us. That is why Jesus alone can say to the cleansed Samaritan leper, “Your faith has saved you.” In receiving praise and thanks from the man, Jesus has united this imperfect praise and thanks of the grateful Samaritan to His own perfect praise and thanks to the Father and obtained God’s saving grace for him.
St. Paul writes to Timothy to remind him that it is Christ Jesus that brings divine value to all that we do, say and endure in this life. Because Christ has been raised from the dead, our living and dying with Him will always have value before God. Despite St. Paul’s time in imprisonment and suffering, the word of God continues to bear fruit because of the Resurrection and presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord in our midst. Indeed, “If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we persevere, we shall also reign with Him.” Through Christ Jesus alone, with Him and in Him alone, all things have value – our prayers of thanks, praise, adoration, petition, our actions and sufferings, our sacrifices. Our constant returning to Him in personal worship makes our gratitude and praise complete and opens us to saving grace.
We need to pray for this deep humility if we are going to have this truth impressed in our hearts. Without this humility, we will see God’s blessings as due rewards for the good we have done and not as gifts of His love for us. Without this humility, we will think that we can give God due praise and worship on our own. True humility makes us see that we need to constantly return to Jesus Christ to give due worship to God in and through Him. True humility will make us so grateful that we will recognize our nothingness before the infinitely great God and our need to offer personal worship to the God in and through Christ Jesus.
It is in the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we find that profound humility that does not only render thanks to God but seeks to do so only through Jesus Christ. Mary so grasped this truth about God’s greatness and her nothingness that in offering thanks to God in her Magnificat, she exclaimed, “He has regarded the humility of His handmaid.” She did not think of her homage being of value itself without it being offered through her divine Son who dwelled in her womb. With Mary we learn that the heavenly Father can only be adequately worshipped, adored, petitioned and praised only through Jesus Christ who has humbled Himself to be our means of worship and source of saving grace.
Above all it is in the Eucharist that we have a unique chance to participate in Christ’s own thanks, praise, worship and petition to the Father. The Eucharist is the sacrament of thanksgiving because it allows us to join in Christ’s own perfect thanks and self offering to the Father. It is a way for us to worship the Father with and in Christ Jesus. We must see our daily or weekly Eucharist as our grateful return to Jesus Christ for all the blessings of this life. When we return to our Eucharistic savior daily or on a weekly basis, we express our gratitude completely to Him. He takes our imperfect thanks, purifies and augments them by adding them to His own and offers it all to the Father. This is what makes our praise and thanks complete and wins for us a saving faith.
image: Detail of mosaic at the ancient Chora Church, Istanbul/Shutterstock