Christ the King Catholic Church
Standing on the Soil of Calvary
Our readings today speak of gratitude. Gratitude is a virtue. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, said that gratitude is the parent of all virtues. Our scriptures today appear to confirm that intuition.
In the first reading we hear the story of Namaan, an army commander from Syria who had contracted leprosy. He had heard of a prophet in Israel through whom God worked incredible deeds. And so, he set out, at great expense, to find this prophet - Elisha. When he does find him, Elisha tells him to go and wash seven times in the River Jordan. At first, Namaan balks at this command. The River Jordan, at that time, was dirty and polluted. But his servants reason with him that if the prophet had asked him to do something difficult or strange, he would have done it simply because the prophet had told him to do it. And so, Namaan washes seven times in the Jordan and he is cured.
Namaan recognized that God had touched him through his prophet, and he accepts the God of Israel as the one, true God. He even takes two mule loads of dirt back to Syria so that he could continue to worship the God of Israel on his own soil for the rest of his life.
And then, in Luke's Gospel we hear the familiar story of the ten lepers. Nine of them are Jewish and one is a foreigner, a Samaritan.
Leprosy, in biblical times, was a dreaded disease. Anyone who was even suspected of having leprosy immediately became an outcast in society. The person was forced to leave his family and live outside the village. A leper wore a bell around the neck so that if anyone came upon him unexpectedly, he would ring the bell and shout, "Unclean, unclean!" And, in the unlikely event that a leper was cured, he had first to go and show himself to the priest who would examine him and verify that he had been healed and then, and only then, could the person return to family and friends.
Lepers often banded together for protection and to find food and to support one another. That explains the 'band' of lepers that approaches Jesus in today's Gospel, asking him to be merciful to them. The recognize Jesus as a holy man, a man of God, and, in desperation, they call out to him for help. As in the story of Namaan, Jesus asked them to do something very simple. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. In telling them to do this, it is presumed that they will be healed. And 'along the way' they are, in fact, healed. Jesus literally gives their life back to them.
But then one, and only one, returns to give thanks to God. And Jesus asks the haunting question, "Were not all ten made whole? Where are the other nine?" and the one who does, in fact, return to thank Jesus is a Samaritan - detested by the Jews.
Namaan, the Syrian, and a Samaritan leper are held up as heroes in today's readings as examples because they have a right relationship with God which is a relationship of gratitude. The fact that both of the 'heroes' of today's scriptures are foreigners - non-Jews, could not go unnoticed to a Jewish audience. The Jews were God's Chosen People and the very ones who had the most reason to be grateful to God.
But we don't point any fingers at our Jewish brothers and sisters. In the fullness of time the Chosen People fulfilled the mission they had been given by God and that was to give the world it's savior. And we have received that savior. What does Saint John tell us in the beautiful prologue of his Gospel? "From his fullness we have all received: grace upon grace." In Jesus God has given all of us a new lease on life. On the cross Jesus took my sins and your sins and he paid the price for our sins which is death - eternal separation from God who is the source of all life. We have been redeemed- bought back for God by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. And we, above all people, have reason to be grateful, eternally grateful, to God for what he has done for us. Psalm 118 tells us, "This is the Lord's doing and it is wonderful in our sight."
I would compare the experience of Namaan and the Samaritan and the gratitude they felt to the experience of people who have recovered from a life-threatening illness. After recovering from such an illness, everything that makes up ordinary life suddenly becomes a manifestation of God's goodness and the person who is
given a new lease on life is filled with a sense of awe and gratitude for everything, absolutely everything.
And this is the attitude with which we are called to life our lives. We are called to cultivate the virtue of gratitude in our daily lives. What does Saint Paul tell us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians? "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of god for you."
The great challenge of our Christian life is to cultivate the virtues that Jesus teaches us are part of the new man and the new woman that we are called to be, and gratitude is one of those virtues. Cicero would say that gratitude is the parent of all the other virtues. If we recognize what God has done for us, if we recognize
the new lease on life that God has offered us - life that continues beyond the grave, how could we not be grateful?
And yet, the reality is that I, often, am not grateful. The very Eucharist that we come together to celebrate is an act of thanksgiving that Jesus has given us and has asked us to celebrate until he returns again. I sometimes hear people who attended Catholic school at a time when the school day began every day with Mass justify their absence for Mass today with words like, "I think I've done enough." I think I've served my time. It's as if God is in our debt rather than our being in God's debt! I think it would be much better to echo the words of Psalm 116: "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord."
The English writer and philosopher G.K. Chesterton had obviously cultivated the virtue of gratitude in his life, for he once wrote, "You often say grace before meals, and that is good, but I say grace before the concert and the opera. I say grace before the play and pantomime. I say grace before I open a book and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in ink."
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that if the stars in the sky only came out one night a year, we would stay up all night to behold them. But because we have seen them so often, we don't even bother to look at them. How easily we take our blessings, our many blessings for granted.
While ten lepers were healed in today's Gospel, only one was saved and that was the one who returned to say thank you. The Samaritan was the one who was in a right relationship with God.
Namaan took some of the soil of Israel home with him to Syria so that he could continually give thanks to the God of Israel for the cure he had been given. In giving us the great gift of the Eucharist, it is as if Jesus has given us some of the soil of Calvary so that we, too, can give thanks to God always and everywhere.
May we cultivate an attitude of gratitude for this is the will of God for us!