In our gospel, we read of ten lepers who come to Jesus for a cure. We have little concept today of what it meant to be a leper at the time of Jesus. Worse than the disease was the leper’s fate; cut off from family, forced to live a wretched life alone, begging for food.
The law stated that Lepers shall dwell apart making their abode outside the camp. They were the living dead and leprosy was regarded more with terror than pity. If a leper spoke to you, they had to do it from a distance, they were never to approach. But, Jesus was always breaking these ancient taboos.
Often we read of Him not only speaking to lepers but reaching out to touch them. He broke all kinds of laws; always His first concern was not law, but people, not religion but life. We are told that one of the ten was a Samaritan. Hated and distrusted by the Jews among whom he lived.
Tolerated only by the nine others with whom he shared this terrible disease. He alone returns to give thanks, ten said please and only one said thank you. He throws himself at the feet of Jesus in gratitude. There is a touch of sadness in the words of Jesus, were not all ten made clean? Where are the other nine?
This is the only place in the Gospels that we find Jesus insisting of the duty of gratitude. Did you ever notice that ungrateful people are never happy? I am privileged to know a young woman, we will call her Kate. Kate is a single parent, three children ages 16, 10 and 8-they are a handful. Bringing up three children in today’s world is difficult enough.
But, for a woman alone, it can sometimes seem impossible. You see, some years ago, Kate’s husband infected her with the HIV virus, and then committed suicide. So, Kate is left with three children who are trying to deal with their father’s suicide and the fact that their mother has aids. The family lives on welfare, SSI, food stamps, but you would never know it.
Kate is one of the happiest people I know, always with a smile, always with encouraging words for other people with aids and always giving them hope and strength. She comes to Graymoor every month for a support group meeting. Comes early, spends an hour in St. Francis Chapel and then goes out to look at the spectacular view from the top of this mountain.
Last Saturday we were both sitting there and she said, “I thank God for this mountain and this view, it gives me such peace. And, you know, the car is running great, the kids are doing well in school and all my bills are paid. And I feel great.” Kate is grateful to God for every day.
She thanks God constantly for her life; she never stops saying thank you to God. It could be said that Kate is a modern-day leper. There are people who do not want her around, do not want her to come near; they want her to stay outside of the camp-even members of her own family. God has not cured Kate, but He has healed her.
Healed her of anger, healed her memories and healed her pain. Now, she is free, free to be happy and live life to the fullest. Ten lepers were healed; one of them returned to give thanks, the other nine went on their merry way. Did it really matter? Jesus thought it did, he felt deep concern for those nine, ungrateful souls.
They were cheating themselves, gratitude is important to you and me because it enriches our lives. And, none of us can ever be truly blessed without it. Today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves two things. First, to which group 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 cured? Perhaps, we all need to say from time to time, “O God, You have given us so much, give us one more thing, a grateful heart.”
Before you leave mass today, say a prayer of thanks. Thanks for the ordinary things of life, that we so often take for granted: your life, your faith, your family and loved ones. But most of all, thank God for His greatest gift to you, His divine Son. The Son you can receive each time you come forward at the Eucharist, the Son who will heal you no matter who you are, or what you have done. You are always welcome here at this alter.