28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
“What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?” With those harsh words, Peppermint Patty berated poor Charlie Brown for failing to deliver the kind of Thanksgiving dinner she thought she deserved. Peppermint Patty isn’t very grateful — like nine out of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel. It sounds like they all could use a gratitude adjustment.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures ten lepers who begged for his mercy, but only one returns to thank him and praise God for his new lease on life. In Jesus’s time, leprosy was one of the worst diseases you could have. Believed to be highly contagious, and with no known cure, lepers were considered ritually unclean and unholy; they were exiled from the community and forbidden to approach anyone. A leper’s only hope of rejoining his family and friends was a miracle. So when Jesus shows up and gives them the miraculous healing they need, you’d think that all ten at least could have shown a little appreciation.
This nine-fold lack of gratitude so disturbs our sense of justice that we cry out for that one grateful leper to receive a bonus miracle of some sort for doing the right thing. A better understanding of gratitude suggests that he may have gotten just that.
Dictionary.com defines gratitude as a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. That’s a lovely definition, for sure, but gratitude is much deeper than that. Gratitude involves both an awareness that we’re loved, and an appreciation of the love received. “The grateful person reveals a humility of spirit and sensitivity to love expressed by others.” In other words, when we’re grateful, we acknowledge our need for the love that accompanies the acts of kindness, and we humbly accept that love. By doing so, we enter into a deeper relationship with our benefactor. In my language there is a saying: Though the benefit conferred be as small as a millet seed, those who know its advantage will consider it as large as a Palmyra fruit (Kural 104)
Ingratitude, on the other hand, “reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that I deserve more than I ever get. Let’s face it, sometimes we get so caught up in our good fortune that we fail to see where that good fortune comes from — like the nine lepers. At other times, we get so caught up in what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate the wonderful things we do have — like Peppermint Patty. When we’re ungrateful, we reject the love that has been offered to us, and without love, good grief, we’re in a pretty sad place.
When we sink to this level of unhappiness, we need a gratitude adjustment, because gratitude opens the door to a new way of living. “Academics have long theorized that expressions of thanks promote health and happiness and give optimism and energy to the downtrodden.” It seems that academia has finally caught up with what the Bible has taught for millennia: Gratitude is good for us! Through the eyes of gratitude, we see life, health, friends, and family as a gift, as “an overwhelming grace to be treasured and guarded.” Through the spirit of gratitude, we acknowledge that all good things come from God and that we need God to survive. Through the heart of gratitude, we accept that God sustains us not because he needs us, but because he loves us. Gratitude brings with it the sure knowledge that God loves us, giving us every reason to join our Psalmist and “shout with joy to the King, the LORD.”
You know, that one grateful leper did receive something more than the others received. Sure, all ten were physically healed, “but only one, having established right relationship with Jesus, is now fully reconciled to God.” The one leper’s gratitude led him to a life-giving relationship with the one God of Israel, just like Naaman in our first reading. An attitude of gratitude secures us in a loving relationship with God and with each other. Whenever we feel overworked, underappreciated, or just down in the dumps, it’s time for a gratitude adjustment. Let’s take the time to acknowledge the many blessings we have and give thanks to our God from whom all blessings flow. Let’s humbly accept these gifts as the gratuitous acts of love that they are. Let’s reconcile ourselves to God and enter a deeper relationship with him through gratitude.
Fr. A. Francis HGN