LUKE 7:11 - 19 - The healing of the ten lepers and the one who returned and gave thanks.
This gospel got me sent to the Principal’s office in 4th grade. Sr. Joseph Anina asked us to illustrate the gospel. All of my classmates had the one grateful leper kneeling before Jesus. I did not even have Jesus in my picture. Scandalous? Apparently so, judging from my teacher’s reaction!
In the first panel, I drew the lepers, on their way to the priests, engaged in conversation. One was sad that even Jesus would not touch him. Another was complaining about how the people in the synagogue or temple always looked down on him. Another was hopeful that by the time they reached the priests, maybe they would be healed. The Samaritan, whom I dressed differently than the rest, started to notice that his skin was looking strangely clear, and maybe Jesus had helped them after all.
In the 2nd panel, all the lepers were now clean and yelling excitedly. A few got to the priests, a few were so excited they skipped the priest and just went home. The Samaritan thanked the priest and then, in a thought bubble, decided he wanted to find Jesus to say thanks.
I thought I had a great imagination. Sr. Joseph Anina thought I missed the whole point of the story.
Maybe I did miss what she thought was important, but looking back through much older eyes and a lifetime of experiences, I think I learned much from this story.
First, I am impressed by the lepers’ request of Jesus to have pity on them. Surely they had heard of His other miracles, and were bold enough to ask for the same consideration. They had to shout their request because they were unclean and therefore not allowed near other people. They remind me of Benedict’s directive, “Never lose hope in God’s mercy.”
When Jesus directed them to go the priests, they did not question Him. They went on their way. This echoes Benedict’s chapter on obedience where he speaks of obedience as listening and responding as a single step.
It’s interesting that the gospel says that the one who returned to Jesus “realized that he had been healed.” If a leper no longer has leprosy, that would be immediately noticeable, so the healing must be more than skin-deep. A leper, now cured, would also have to let go of the bitterness and suffering experienced by being ostracized from the community… a healing of emotions, spirit and psyche.
I think it is THAT insight that compels the Samaritan to find Jesus and thank Him.
Don’t we all have moments like that in our lives? Times that, in retrospect, we realize that we have been gifted or healed or helped in some way? Do we give thanks to God for that good fortune? Do we make the effort to thank the people who were involved in our transformation?
Before I made first vows here, I spent a lot of time looking at the path that brought me here and realized that my former community had been very influential in my spiritual growth. With that insight, I was able to let go of the hurt of being turned down for final vows and my heart was massaged and softened to the point where I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all they had taught me… the easy lessons as well as the ones that were painful and challenging. I wrote a brief thank you note, and was pleasantly surprised when the first 2 cards I received for profession were from my Marianist sisters. No hard feelings, no regrets, just prayers and blessings for the journey.
So, perhaps this gospel is about recognizing our woundedness, recognizing those who bring us healing, and being grateful for the faith that is the thread holding everything together.
Perhaps Jesus knew, as Bishop Tobin said, that “gratitude is the attitude that will make ministry (and, my own insertion, the Reign of God) credible.”
May we be people with grateful hearts today and always.