28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have thought many times that it is good that I am not Jesus.  In the Gospel, we hear that Jesus cures ten lepers and only one returns to thank him.  If I were Jesus, I would have given the other nine leprosy again immediately.  Like I said, it is good that I am not Jesus.

Still one must wonder why it is so important to give thanks to God.  The lepers call to Jesus from far away because they are not allowed to approach anyone.  Imagine the isolation they had lived with.  I am sure that the other nine went home to embrace their loved ones, to become part of the community again.  Why does Jesus emphasize that only the one leper truly understood that what was most important was to give thanks to God? 

After all, giving thanks to God does nothing to add to God’s majesty.  God is not dependent on us, we are dependent on God.  It is not like David Ortiz hits a grand slam and if you forget to thank God, God takes it out on you by making it rain for three days straight. 

No, giving thanks to God changes us.   We discover who God is in our life and who we are meant to be.  It seems a difficult thing to emphasize when giving thanks does not seem such a priority.  We are quick to thank anyone who holds a door for us or who passes us food, but we rarely give thanks for the big things.  What if we said thank you for being such a good friend?  Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for being a great kid.  Recently, friends of mine received a letter from their adult son who thanked them for the effort and wisdom they put in raising them.  That is the kind of moment that changes relationships, that affirms, that brings peace. Imagine how they felt. 

Perhaps the reason we don’t have more moments like that is that we are not great at giving thanks to where it first belongs.  If we gave thanks to God, we would be so much more aware of all that has been given to us.  Gratefulness and peacefulness could take up all the space occupied by fear and wanting. Of course, our measure of thanks will never equal what God has given just as we can never love God as well as God loves us.  Perhaps, the immensity of our debt stunts our gratitude.  But we can be assured by the words of St. Bernard, “Where everything is given, nothing is lacking.”  God accepts our dim praise like a blazing fire.

We should also give thanks to God so that we can be stunned by beauty.  Unless you are not thinking in the direction of how and when to give thanks, it is easy to take for granted the beauty that God has showered upon us. In the cold room of philosophy and science, you could argue and explain away every notion of divinity.  But with open eyes and open heart, all creation cries out in thanksgiving to a creator who has gifted us so well.  A thankful heart is alert to beauty in nature and in God’s crown of creation -our brothers and sisters.  A thankful heart appreciates how well we have been loved and how perfectly we have been blessed.  A thankful heart allows itself to be overwhelmed by God’s glory.

And finally, giving thanks defines our relationship with God.  We give thanks because we were created to do so.  Aware of our blessings, there is a space within us that simply wants to acknowledge the giver of these gifts and nothing fills that space like God.  Much of the racket and chaos in the world are attempts to negotiate that space without reference to the one who has created us in love.  We take credit for that which is not ours, breaking the promise of Hosea, “We will never again say, ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands.”  Thanking God is a promise to allow God to be God and rest in God’s peace.

And that is why we come together to celebrate a Sabbath.  It is for Eucharist, for thanksgiving. Today, someone will quietly say thank you for some miracle in their life.  Today, we will all join in joyful song exalting our God to the best of our abilities as generations before have done.  Today, Jesus will respond by giving us his best – his body and blood.  And we give thanks.  And the cycle of never-ending appreciation, love and thanks begins anew. It is not a bad way to get around.