Luke 17:11-19b, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I love taking the electric jeep in school. The ride is always breezy and quiet, no exhaust fumes, and I get to meet friends along the way. But the best thing about the ride is hearing Ateneans say “thank you” to the driver as they get off. “Salamat po, kuya,” “thank you, kuya.” Now not all Atenean riders say “thank you” to kuya. Still, it’s heartening to see how the spirit of gratitude is still alive in many an Ateneans’ hearts—especially gratitude to manongs and manangs.
We don’t say thank you often enough, especially to people who make life a little more comfortable each day, do we? I mean, do we remember the last time we said thank you to the waiter who brought our food over? Or topped up our drink? Or to the guard or to your driver who held the door open? Or to our kasambahay who ran for what we needed even before we could ask? “Well, they’re being paid to do that,” the older would say. “Well, duh, it’s their job,” the younger would say. A few years ago, I was at a wake. Very wealthy matrons were there. You could tell, you could smell. After mass, as we exited, I held the door open for one matron, because she had her Hermes over an arm, an enormous abanico in one hand, and a phone in the other. Our eyes met as I held the door open for her. But, leaving a trail of Jean Patou, $800 worth of sweet smell, she swanned past, straight for a uniformed driver holding the car door open for her. In she went with her big hair, not even looking at manong. Maybe she looked… but did not see?
The 10 men with leprosy stood at a distance from Jesus. Leprosy was not a pretty sight. When the Lord saw them, however, he healed them. Then he told them, “Go show yourselves to the priests,” which was another way of saying, “Let the priests see you.” Seeing that they were healed, the priests could now issue a clean bill of health. All this time, these lepers had to shout, “Unclean, unclean.” They had to alert people, so that seeing the lepers and their unsightly sores, people would keep away. Thanks to Jesus, the lepers finally saw the day when they’d never have to do that again. This one leper, though, a Samaritan of all people—Jews would have nothing to do with them—seeing that he was healed, he looked for Jesus to thank him. Upon finding the Lord, he threw himself at his feet. People at the time threw themselves at someone’s feet to beg for mercy. But this one did it out of gratitude. But when Jesus didn’t see the other nine, he wondered, “Where are they?” Really another way of saying, “Are they so caught up in their good fortune that they fail to see God’s hand in their healing?”
I love the way Luke riffs over the word “see” in this particular story. He makes “seeing” hold hands with “thanking.” Because it’s so true, sisters and brothers. When we progressively fail at thanking people even for the small favors they do for us, then, don’t you think there’s a chance we’re turning blind—blind most of all to God’s hand in our everyday blessings? And when we turn a blind eye to people we say we pay to serve us anyway, does that make us righteous and just? Or does that make us imperious and unseeing? That’s why I love the words we use for deep gratitude: “pagtanaw ng utang na loob.” The word, tanaw has a nuance. “Tanaw” implies that the person now stands on a privileged place, a higher vantage point. There, one enjoys a wider vision, tanaw, a more encompassing view of reality—the reality of being blessed. When we “tanaw utang na loob,” it implies that we’ve been elevated, raised, and ushered to a safer, kinder place of blessedness… not by our own efforts or merits or entitlements… but rather, by someone else who saw our helplessness, noticed our trouble, witnessed our desperation. So, we say “thank you,” seeing how blessed we now are. In this regard, the opposite is also true. Nothing’s more painful than being told, “wala kang utang na loob;” “hindi ka na tumatanaw ng utang na loob.” That’s another way of saying, “You no longer see what you were saved from; you are short-sighted; blinded by your entitlement.” In a word, “Inggrato/a.”
Sisters & brothers, we’re so lucky that nothing in the Gospels says, “And Jesus struck the 9 ungrateful’s with a relapse of leprosy.” If God were to confiscate blessing from us, one by one, for every instance we fail to thank people for even the smallest gestures of service they do for us, maybe we would’ve all gone back to dearth, “back-to-zero.” How leprous and unsightly we must become in God’s eyes whenever we demand gratitude yet fail miserably at it ourselves. And how poverty-stricken we are despite our Hermes, Jean Patou, giant abanico, big hair—whenever we look at our blessings but refuse to see their bestowers, demand but refuse to give gratitude, receive so much but thank so little. To get back to my point, we’re so lucky to have a God who is “blind” to the many times we should’ve said thank you but did not, especially when we consoled ourselves, saying: “Eh, hayaan mo na. Binabayaran naman ang mga ‘yan para magsilbe.” In spite of ourselves, God remains relentless in generosity.
“Ate,” I once asked a waitress in a Greenhills restaurant, “Sa sampung customer po ninyo, ilan po ang nagsasabi ng ‘thank you?’” She looked up to think, then smiling, she said: “Mga isa po, dalawa, gano’n.” “Eh, ano naman pong nararamdaman n’yo kapag may nagpapasalamat?”
“Nakakawala po ng pagod, ser.”