As Jesus was traveling through Jerusalem, he was met at a distance by ten lepers who cried out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!“ Jesus responded to them by saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As the lepers went on their way they were healed of their illness. Only one them knowing he was freed from his ailment, came back and glorified God by falling at the feet of Jesus and thanking him.
You have to wonder what happened to those other nine. The nine lepers who did not return to thank Jesus. Did their minds and hearts immediately turn to other needs, new and sudden preoccupations; things more urgent? Did they just move on with their lives, cured of leprosy, but now worrying about something else? Did they remember what it was like to be kept always at a distance from others, or did they simply forget their once mortal fate which was with them daily?
If the lepers kept a diary or journal, perhaps they could have turned back the pages to the forgotten times when they cried out for pity and begged for help. They might have remembered how they once thought that their whole world would change, if only they were without the horrible disease. They might have compared their old feelings about their affliction with their new found freedom, having now won their hearts’ desire.
How often all of us resemble the nine lepers instead of the one. There are times when we seem to go through our days the way some children go through birthday presents. We tear through the wrapping paper, piling up the boxes as we move on to the next bright toy. Birthday cards are emancipated from their envelopes without reading the message, or caring little who the gift was from. What’s next for us? Is that all?
The fleeting interest, the inability to rest with a gift, occurs in the matters of our health as well. We might fret through the night, thinking the heartburn is a heart attack; fearing that the cold sore is cancer as our anxiety grows. But the hours pass and the danger subsides. Then we immediately forget the gift and possibility of losing it. Once threatened–now secure, we waste no time beginning to worry about something else.
Birthday gifts and health not the only pitfalls of our forgetfulness, our desires also have a place at the table. “If only I could change my job. If only I had more time for myself. If only I could¼¼. If only I had¼”. Along with quiet and time, restlessness increases and action is needed. Now done with one catastrophe, we expect to fear the next. We can never stay still and peacefully rest. Always action, always something new.
Nine of the lepers couldn’t do it either, but one did, by giving thanks to God. Why are we more like the nine lepers instead of the grateful one? We become so unaware of our countless favors and gifts. We don’t appreciate our rescues and healings even one tenth of the time. If we could count the fears, both small and large, that once confronted us, and then thank God for each dreaded outcome never met, would we ever reach an end to our gratitude?
We will not fully appreciate, not fully take hold of our lives, until we learn to give thanks for the gifts we have been given. We don’t really own our legs or eyes, our hands and skin, unless we’re daily grateful. We don’t really live with our loved ones unless we foster an appreciative sensitivity to their presence. It is only the loss of them – or the threat of it – that shakes us into an awareness of their lovely company.
When we begin to work with God’s grace is when we truly wake from our sleepwalk. When we acknowledged all of our good comes from God, we see the wonder of the smallest part of our existence. It is then when we begin to live, and to be fully cured. Just as the tenth leper was fully cured and saved because of his gratitude to Jesus, our thankfulness will assure we will be the tenth leper, and not the other nine who were cured physically, but not spiritually. The recognition and appreciation not only change our life, it also confirms the giver as well. The confirmation of the giver is nothing less than our gratitude.
Might God be more interested in our gratitude than anything else? Our Jesus, having healed ten, saw something wondrous in the one who made time to come back, fall at his feet, and praise God. He saw the beauty of a human heart that believes it is loved by fully accepting the gift, and the one who gives it.
To be fully cured is a closed circle by which we receive God’s gift, acknowledging it as pure love and returning the love with our own love, which is our appreciation. The nine lepers had no more sores on their body but their souls were closed off to the flow of love and the joy of returning love. Only by returning love can we have a chance to be fully cured.
O Lord, You have given much to me, but give me one more thing, a grateful heart.