28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Oct 9, 2022
A priest was called upon to substitute for the regular pastor who had fallen ill. The priest began the mass by explaining the meaning of substitute. He said, “If you break a window and then replace it with cardboard, that’s a substitute.”
After the mass was over, a woman who had listened to the substitute priest intently approached him to thank him and remarked, “Father, you were no substitute! You were a real pane!”
Thankfulness! Gratitude! That’s what the woman expressed to the substitute priest and that’s what this thanksgiving weekend is all about.
In our gospel story, the act of seeing plays a critical role in the actions that are recounted in the encounter with Jesus and the ten lepers. At first, the ten lepers SEE Jesus and call out to him, “Jesus, have mercy on us!” And then, Jesus SEES them and gives them instructions on what to do in order to receive healing. On the most fundamental level, there’s the physical seeing of each other, recognizing the other as different or separate from the other —the healing Jesus on the one side and the unhealthy lepers on the other. But on a deeper level, there’s also the insight that influences both Jesus and the lepers to interact with one another and to see the divine presence of God within the other.
Jesus shows this insight himself when he doesn’t write off the ten lepers by dividing them between which ones are Jews and which ones are Samaritans. He certainly could have done so and no one would have blinked an eye. Yet, Jesus sees beyond those differences to the hurting person underneath. He shows insight too, in not telling them which priest of the temple to go to, in order to be healed. Jews would have recognized the priests in the temple at Jerusalem while the Samaritans would have recognized the priests at the temple at Gerizim. Instead of getting involved in this minute difference, Jesus avoids the issue completely.
The ten lepers, on the other hand, show insight in trusting Jesus’ advice to them on what they needed to do to receive healing and depart at once for the temple, based solely on Jesus’ word to them. The result of such insight is that everyone is healed, highlighting the fact that God’s grace is not restrictive; it’s for everyone, irrespective of cultural, religious or ethnic differences. Such insight also reveals that God’s love has no human boundaries. It is for all.
What insight have we gleaned from this healing miracle of Jesus? Do we have enough trust in God that we can act on what he says, even before we have any evidence that what God promises will actually come to fruition? And what about after God fulfills his promises toward us? What do we do then? That’s where our commitment to gratitude comes into play.
We see in our gospel story that it’s possible to receive God’s great gifts with an ungrateful heart. Jesus didn’t make gratitude in one’s heart, a prerequisite for receiving God’s free gift of grace. And from the narrative, we know that nine out of ten of the healed lepers didn’t’ return. Maybe it was because they were Jews and felt that healing was their due because they were members of God’s chosen people. Maybe it was because they just wanted to move on with their lives and forget that they had ever been lepers and excluded from accepted society. Maye it was because they didn’t want to feel indebted to Jesus for granting the miraculous healing. We really don’t know why the nine didn’t return.
We do know, though, that the one who returns does so because he realizes that his faith in Jesus Christ has a role to play in his healing and he wants a deeper, long-term relationship with Christ because of it. As a result, he grows in his own understanding and acceptance of God’s grace. While the ingratitude of the other nine didn’t negate Christ’s mercy toward them, it did deprive them of faithful fellowship they could have had with him, had they returned.
Hopefully, when we approach the Lord in our need, we do so cognizant of all that God has done for us and with a spirit of gratitude in our hearts. Hopefully, when God intervenes in our lives, we thank him continually because we acknowledge the role God has always played in bestowing the many blessings we’ve already received — blessings that, perhaps, we don’t even merit or deserve and yet, have received none the less.
The one returning leper had the valuable insight that the grace Jesus poured out upon his life was free and unmerited. As such, it was an expression of God’s mercy toward him. We can glean from this that Jesus doesn’t demand that we thank him, but he’s pleased when we do so, because it acknowledges that we recognize God’s love demonstrated in concrete actions toward us, making us whole and re-uniting us to the rest of God’s holy people.
Jesus’ final words to the Samaritan that was healed were, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made well.” (Lk 17: 19) An alternative translation could be, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.” Yes, the nine received physical healing, but the tenth received so much more. He received the gift of salvation through faith. And that is indeed something to be thankful for!
Like the ten lepers, God is also concerned for our well-being. He wants us to remain physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually vibrant until it comes time for us to leave this world for the awesomeness of God’s reign in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet, we know that not all healing in this world is instantaneous, and not all healing occurs in the moment we’re praying for it. Oftentimes, healing from the spiritual, emotional, and physical wounds which scar us may take some time and a lot of prayer in communion with God. Healing often requires sacrifices on our part and the insight and humility to ask for God’s help. It often requires patience and a belief that God will act in God’s time.
It also requires a great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to see with the eyes of faith, what God’s plan for our lives is, and an eagerness to embrace that plan, even if it doesn’t line up with our own.
Most importantly, healing requires a spirit of gratitude at all times for what we already do have in our lives and a commitment to avoiding continuous complaining about the suffering or the misery which we, perhaps, are currently experiencing alongside our blessings. Being grateful further requires that we avoid the mindset of thinking that life is unfair, that God is unfair, or that our faith is misplaced due to some limitation that we’re experiencing. As long as we’re grateful for the gift of life and faith, God can work miracles for us and through us and all around us. And the gratitude that we express when such divine interventions occur will deepen our own spiritual relationship with God and make us mindful of our responsibility to do great things for the Lord, for however long our pilgrimage on earth lasts. So let us never cease giving thanks to God and ever ready to live a spirit of gratitude with each passing day.
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