Saturday 9 October 2010

Gratitude is an attitude

The Parable of the Gospel text of today has often been called “The Parable of the Ten Lepers”. Most interpretations of the Parable focus on the ingratitude of the nine and on the gratitude of the Samaritan. Thus, the main point seems to be that one must be grateful to God for the mercies we receive. Although this is certainly true, there is more.

If Jesus had wanted to focus on ingratitude alone, there would have been no need to single out “this foreigner”. Therefore, Jesus was pointing out more than mere gratitude or ingratitude. He was asking his hearers to look beyond. The mention of the words “this foreigner”, which in the context must be contrasted with the words “the chosen ones”, seeks to make a stronger point. It is that the proper response to God’s saving mercy is not a presumption that it is deserved. The proper response is untainted gratitude and pure praise of God. The Jews of Jesus’ time looked on the Samaritans with distain. The Samaritans were considered as outcasts and as not belonging to the “chosen people”. Many Jews considered blessings from God as their right. They believed that merely being Jews entitled them to receive all privileges. However, God’s mercy, compassion, and grace cannot be merited, earned, or deserved. They are given freely. The only response that one can have in the face of this unconditional gifting on the part of God is acceptance with an open heart and gratitude.

This is possible only when one realizes one’s state. In the first reading of today, Naaman realized when he was healed that his healing was a result of the grace of the God of Israel. He did not know this God. He worshipped other gods and yet, when his healing took place, he was able to boldly acknowledge that he had been graced. This is why his response was first, to praise God and then, to offer to his intermediary, Elisha, a gift like the gift of the Samaritan in the Gospel text of today. He, too, first praised God, the origin and source of his healing and then, prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him as the one who brought that gift of grace and healing.

As long as one keeps thinking in terms of what one merits, one will not be able to appreciate the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what Paul asks Timothy to do in the second reading of today. The Gospel and the Good News is that salvation has already been obtained by Jesus and all we have to do now is be grateful for the gift and the privilege that we have received. No matter how much we consider ourselves “chosen”, we will never be worthy.

Alas! We keep thinking like the nine healed lepers in terms or merit. We forget grace. We keep thinking of privilege. We forget responsibility. We keep thinking of advantage. We forget duty. We keep thinking selfishly. We forget gratitude. Jesus, however, was able to see and think about the need of the lepers. He acted to meet their needs. Naaman was able to see his healing as a sign of God’s mercy. The Samaritan leper was able to see that he was healed and returned to praise God and fall on his face before Jesus. He knew about grace and responsibility and gratitude. He knew that what he had been given was an undeserved gift unlike the other nine who probably thought that they deserved more than they got. This is likely why the Samaritan returned and other nine, the Jews, did not.

To encounter this gracious God was something that Naaman and the Samaritan leper never thought possible. This is why they responded with such wonder and enthusiasm. For the other nine, God was “familiar”, and so they did not think it necessary to return to give thanks.

Unfortunately, this also happens with the God we believe in as Christians. Our life is filled with a multitude of unmerited blessings – health, food, family, and friends, our faith, even our very lives. God’s providence and goodness, in the form of these ever present gifts, leads to familiarity and expectation. We think we have earned them because we have been good. We think we deserve them because we have fulfilled obligations. It seems natural to us that God responds to our prayer. So we often forget to say a sincere "Thank you", or to offer the homage of our hearts in worship, praise, and adoration. The result is that we take God for granted.

The secret to perceiving the Giver and his gift anew is to awaken our sense of wonder, to reflect upon what God has done, and is doing, in our lives. God has done all that was required to be done, in Jesus. We respond, not by demanding what we wrongly imagine is our right but, by recognizing and acknowledging that all that we receive is given to us from unconditional love and mercy.

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