Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 13, 2019)
In the first reading from Kings, an unlikely person appears. It is an outcast, a non-Jew Syrian general by the name of Naaman. The story of Naaman shows humility as the key pre-requisite for gratitude - and the faith that flows from gratitude.
Naaman showed his humility in a drama of three scenes. In the first, Naaman admits his lack of self-sufficiency and seeks out the conquered, Jewish prophet Elisha to ask for help. In the second scene, Elisha did not even come out to meet Naaman but sent a prescription to him through one of his followers: bathe seven times in the Jordan River! (Almost sounds like saying, “Go, jump in a lake.”) Naaman needed to swallow his pride; he “knew” how foolish it sounded and that there were just as good or even better rivers in Syria. But he submitted his judgment . . . and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the third scene, Naaman came back to say thank you and more - he expresses faith in the God of the Jews: “Now I know that there is no god in all the earth except in Israel . . . Allow your servant to be given as much earth as two mules can carry, because I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any God except the Lord.” Naaman accepted God’s gift and responded with praise. He wanted to worship on Jewish soil. Faith.
The ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel called Jesus “master.” Perhaps, they sensed the power of God. Ten were cured; only one returned and fell at the feet of Jesus and “glorifying God in a loud voice thanked him.” He was a Samaritan, a Jewish outcast. And yet, and Jesus said: “Your faith has saved you.” Is praise and gratitude identified with faith?
So often we are like the nine lepers who were cured but did not return to give thanks. We, too, take good things for granted - the good test results, the accident avoided on the highway, the negative x-ray. So often we chalk up the good things that occur in our lives as being solely the result of our own efforts:
“The reason I do not have lung cancer is that I stopped smoking.”
“I am healthy; I eat healthfully; I avoid fats, salt, sugar, cholesterol.”
“I exercise. It’s all about me; I made it happen.”
True, we cooperate, but “none of the above” guarantees good health.
Like the nine lepers do we simply want to get on with our lives instead of reflecting on the source of good gifts? After any of our various recoveries, do we move on immediately - without first giving thanks?
This second “good Samaritan” in the gospel, the tenth leper, surely wanted to get on with his life, too. Yet, there was a difference with him: he chose to glorify God and then thank Jesus. There is a character difference between the person of faith and others who do not return to express gratitude.
Jesus taught us the lesson of the connectedness of humility, gratitude and faith. At the last supper on the night before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his Apostles. Humility. He gave thanks to his Father and instituted Eucharist, a word that means “thanksgiving.” Gratitude. He went to Calvary and commended himself to the hands of our father. Faith.
Humility is the underpinning of gratitude. We recognize our insufficiency and our gratitude to God. Humility and gratitude makes us “soft-eyed.” Gratitude introduces us to faith - as Naaman and the Samaritan make clear. Humility and gratitude render it impossible to have the “hard-eyes” of the macho personality skeptic or the cynic.
For what are you thankful to God? When is the last time you’ve expressed your thanks?