giving thanks for the gift of life

Shakespeare once observed: “Blow, blow, thou winder wind thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.” It is perhaps the most common of all human failings: ingratitude. How often an underserved gift grants no favor in return; a gift received, no gratitude expressed.

Only one returned

Only one returned

It is our attitude of self-sufficiency that denies thoughts of gratitude for all the gifts we have received. We are far too self-absorbed, reluctant to grow beyond our childhood, believing we are owed simply for existing. We treat gifts received like children tearing through wrapping paper, caring nothing for the gift, while but anticipating the next. Each gift cast aside, so soon forgotten as we look for the next new thing, too quickly discarded.

Why do we crave such gifts without appreciation? Life is fleeting yet we savor none of it, unaware of all we have received, searching aimlessly for what, we do not know? We cannot rest within the gift—we fail to understand what Augustine wrote: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

If we could count the endless deliverances, the rescues and the healings, the worries and the fears which even now pursue us; if we would thank the Lord for all the dreaded outcomes never met, we would breach no limit to our gratitude. Yet we have no desire to think of God and all the gifts he has bestowed and thus we fail to stop and say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Rather, we continue in our fog, never realizing we have yet to live at all. The greatest gift is that we live and yet we squander it on petty nothings, never taking full possession of our lives because we find no joy in what we have received.

It is only when we clear away the fog and glimpse the wondrous gift of our existence that we begin to live. It is then, when we will come to know what it means—like lepers Naaman and the Samaritan—to be saved.

Perhaps it is the story that best describes the gift gratitude provides: it is a story of a woman, well advanced in age, residing in an extended care facility; afflicted with an incurable wasting disease, her body slowly fading away as the months quickly passed.

One day a young woman, visiting another resident, was drawn by the unrestrained joy that radiated from the woman’s face. Though she could no longer move her arms and legs, she would say, “I’m just so happy I can move my neck.” When she could no longer move her neck, she would say, “I’m just so glad I can hear and see.”

When the young woman asked the old woman what would happen if she lost her sight and hearing, the gentle woman said, “I’ll just be so grateful that you come to visit.”1

Gratitude is in itself a gift, returning heartfelt appreciation for what has been received. Gratitude is at the heart of our readings for this weekend.

In our first reading we hear of Naaman, a Syrian leper, who like the Samaritan in the Gospel passage, was an outsider, a foreigner who did not worship the God of Israel. When he came to Elisha and asked to be cured he expected something spectacular and thus was rather annoyed when Elisha told him to go plunge seven times into the Jordan. But he did as he was told and was cleansed of his disease.

In his joy, Naaman rushed back to Elisha in gratitude, proclaiming: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.”2 Inexplicably Elisha refused. While we find no explicit reason for his refusal, Elisha undoubtedly saw in Naaman’s cure the hand of God; Elisha had done nothing but speak the word of God. Naaman owed his gratitude to God; Elisha’s reward was God’s love and grace.

When Elisha refused to accept any gift from him, Naaman makes a strange request:

If you will not accept,
please let me, your servant,
have two mule-loads of earth,
for I will no longer offer
holocaust or sacrifice
to any other god
except to the Lord.

Why on earth would Naaman ask Elisha for permission to haul off a pile of dirt? Unlike the Israelites at the time, every group had their own local god or gods. The God of Israel, Yahweh, differed in that the Israelites knew Yahweh was both Creator of all and God of all.

Thus when Naaman, a Syrian, was healed, in the name of Yahweh, he came to the same conclusion: there is only one God, Yahweh, the God of Israel. He asked for two mule-loads of dirt to honor Yahweh in gratitude by taking a portion of the land of Israel back to his home.

Likewise, we hear Saint Paul remind us Christ suffered and died for our salvation, a gift from God. It is through our gift of gratitude that we must bear everything for the sake of others “so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.”3

If we deny his gift he will deny us; but—and this is most important—even when we are unfaithful he will remain faithful for that is his nature and he cannot deny himself. He offers himself and the opportunity to live and reign with him as unearned gifts whether we are want to accept them or not. We show our gratitude by remaining faithful, our ingratitude by our failure to remain in Christ Jesus.

Bruno of Segni suggested that the ten lepers in the Gospel represent the sum total of all sinners. He observed that they stood at a distance and called out to Jesus, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” They did so because no one in their condition dared come close.4

It is the same for us while we continue to sin: sin turns us away from God and damages our relationship with him. He continually pours out his gifts of love and grace and in our sin we ignore his gifts and display our ingratitude.

As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.5

One out of ten upon realizing he had been cured returned to show his gratitude; only one and he was a Samaritan. What is remarkable is the dilemma the Samaritan then faced when Jesus told the ten to show themselves to the priests: to which temple should he report? For the Jews, this would be the temple in Jerusalem but Samaritans recognized Mount Gerizim as the true place to worship God and the Samaritan priests were at Gerazim.

The Samaritan realized that the sacred place no longer was in Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim but now resided in the person of Jesus and so he returns to him, “praising God in a loud voice.”

Here we meet the inadequacy of language, for Luke writes euchariston—a word that is used in the Greek bible only for thanks and praise given to God. And “God” in Luke’s writings is reserved for the Father. Thus, in Luke’s language, this sentence is in effect saying the Samaritan was acknowledging the proper place to encounter the presence of God was in the person of Jesus.6

Returning to Bruno of Segni, he said of the Samaritan, “He stands for all those who, after their cleansing by the waters of baptism or healing by the sacrament of penance, renounce the devil and take Christ as their model, following him with praise, adoration, and thanksgiving, and nevermore abandoning his service.”

We should not ignore that ten lepers were healed although only one returned to express his gratitude. All ten were healed; none lost the gift of healing; none were punished for their ingratitude.

Gifts of God are always without condition; repentance is neither asked for nor demanded. True gratitude has no ulterior motivation; one cannot express gratitude expecting further gifts or blessings.  Amen.

 

Homily # 090
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19


1 John Kavanaugh, S.J., The Word Engaged: Gratitude, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.
2 2 Kgs 5:15.
3 2 Tm 2:10.
4 Bruno of Segni, Bishop, On Luke’s Gospel 2, 50: PL 165, 426-428.
5 Lk 17:14-16.
6 Dennis Hamm, S.J., Let the Scriptures Speak: What the Samaritan Sees, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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