28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Why was it so important to Jesus that he be thanked by the lepers he cured? He is obviously upset that only one of the ten, a Samaritan at that, returned to thank him. “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” Did he perform the miracle so that he would be thanked? That would be pretty shallow. (I never understood when you thank someone for something that they feel compelled to tell you that they did not do it for thanks. I had not thought so, but it does not change your need to thank them.) Did he use thanks as a test for faithfulness? If it were me, I might have been tempted to give the other nine their leprosy back. (Imagine the other nine lepers on their way home having been cured and then looking down, “Ooops, what is that on my arm. Darn.”) But I know the Lord of mercy is better than I am.
And it cannot be that Jesus is in need of the credit. He is the all-powerful son of God. He does not need like we need. That is sometimes the most challenging aspect of our relationship with God. We cannot do for God what God does for us. It is not as if we could say to Jesus, “Thanks. When you get leprosy, stop by and I will cure you.”
With our perfect, non-needy God however, the only thing we can do is be grateful. Thanksgiving puts us in right relationship with God. Gratefulness completes the circle of mercy where we name how and for what we are thankful for to our God, not for God’s sake but for our own. We discover the indefinable beauty and generosity of God in thanksgiving. Our thanks might seem very little compared to God’s blessings, but in a phrase from St. Bernard that I have come to love, “Where everything is given, nothing is lacking.” At the end of the day, all we can do for God is to give thanks, creatures aware of the blessings of their creator.
And if that is how we are to relate to God, it must mean something about how we relate to one another. Often this is an uncomfortable position for us. We often “repair” our debts by paying them back. If you have me over for dinner, I will have you. If you do some kindness for me, I do one for you. That is not thanksgiving. That is economics – a way to balance the books. When you give thanks, we admit that we are in debt to the kindness of another. We are fine at politeness, saying, “Thank you” as a door is held open. But what of the greatest gifts of our lives? How are we thankful for the people who have made us who we are?
A priest was giving a talk to the eighth grade Confirmation class on Long Island and he told the story of how a family “saved” a girl from an orphanage in China by adopting her. I am sure that no malice was meant but my friend’s daughter who had been adopted from China started getting nervous and resenting the fact that she felt all eyes had fallen on her. Her mother noticed as Moms always notice and texted her in the middle of the session, “I did not save you. You saved me.”
We need to say thank you for the ones who have transformed our lives. It can mean even more than saying, “I love you.” After all, it seems we cannot choose who we love. It comes upon us like a wave. But when we thank someone, we choose to do so and we must give a reason for why they are a blessing in our lives. This Holy Year of Mercy ends on November 20th. Perhaps we can find occasion by that time to show our gratitude for the ones who have loved us and name the revolution they are in our lives.
And when we do that, undoubtedly, we will be flooded with a spirit of thanksgiving to the God who has given us such astounding gifts in our lives. In giving thanks, we stand in silent awe of how deeply, completely and ridiculously we have been blessed by our God.