Luke 17:11-19, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the time of Jesus, when a so-called leper claimed to have been healed, religious law required him to submit himself to the examination of a priest. The priest would start observing the person’s sores, note their size, shape, and color. Through many weeks, months sometimes, the patient made several visits to the priest who monitored if the sores got any smaller, better, and dryer. Only upon the confirmation of the priest that the “leprosy” was gone would the patient be granted a clean bill of health. The ex-leper could then enjoy many happy privileges: like worshipping at temple or going to the synagogue for services. The best thing was he would no longer have to warn people to step aside when he entered a village—by ringing a bell, striking a gong or cymbal, or yell, “Unclean, unclean.” He would finally be one of them—a dignified, bona fide member of the community.
Leprosy wasn’t curable until well into the 1950’s. So if anyone got a clean bill of health during the Lord’s time, the patient could have been suffering from any type of skin ailment, but most likely not leprosy. Surely, those whose sores would not heal might have had leprosy, but we could only at best speculate about what they really had. But whatever it was that terribly ailed them, Jesus healed the ten men that day and one came back to thank him.
However, like I said, these lepers would have had to make the healing official by going through a weeks-long priestly diagnosis. So, it must have taken some time before this one leper could come back to thank the Lord. Besides, he would have had to actually search for Jesus since the Lord itinerated extensively. So see, now we can even better appreciate how gracious and mannerly this one man was! Pinagsikapan talaga niyang hanapin si Hesus sa loob ng mahabang panahon, at talagang sadyain siya para mapasalamatan. For this gentleman, no gratitude was ever too late. No matter how long it took him or how difficult, no measure of exhaustion, false leads, or dead ends deterred him from thanking Jesus in person.
As my way of trying to remember it myself, I constantly tell the seminarians, the younger Jesuits, and my students in Loyola School of Theology that just as the Lord cannot be outdone in generosity, we, in turn, can never over-thank him. Come to think of it, sisters and brothers, “thank you” comes from the old German, thankoz, which also means “thought.” So to say “thank you,” is also to say, “I think of you.” So it’s pretty awesome that just as we say we can never over-thank God, we can also say we can never think of God enough! Yet, when we do thank God, it is us who benefit from the gratitude. In the words of the former Roman Missal—which I like far better than this “new” one that’s really archaic (so it’s really “old” rather than “new”): “All powerful & ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When we thank God, we grow in grace, we profit from the gratitude. We realize how blessed we are, for one, and how we do not deserve our blessings. So all the more we praise God for giving us what exceeds our true worth.
When Jesus asked the grateful man, “Ten were cleansed, weren’t there? Where are the other nine?” I don’t think for one second that the Lord said those words grudgingly. On the contrary, he must’ve been joyfully surprised that after all this time, someone would take the trouble, and a “foreigner” at that, probably a non-believer in God. Unlike us who often furtively demand gratitude and harbor little grudges here and there when the thank you’s don’t come—or come soon enough—our Lord was nothing of the sort. He didn’t entitle himself to gratitude. I guess that was why it made for an even happier surprise for him that someone would come and offer gratitude at all. For Jesus, the sheer joy in sharing God’s blessings was its own reward; likewise, the gratitude of the blessed, its own wondrous healing.
We can never over-thank God, sisters & brothers. He really has no need of our praise, and our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to his greatness. But our gratitude makes us grow in God’s grace. And if I may add, if we wish to be healed of our long-festering sores, maybe a deepening and more deliberate sense of gratitude might help us along. Thank you, God. I think of you, God. Amen.