Reflection October 13 2019
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of my favourite aspects of Thanksgiving is our propensity to be grateful. Thanksgiving rituals often involve examining our lives and sharing or at least contemplating our many blessings. As my mother would say, “having an attitude of gratitude”. Studies suggest that by focusing on gratitude we can improve our outlook on life, because by concentrating on what you have, you feel you have more. By contrast, if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll feel you never have enough.
But for the last little while I’ve been contemplating the world and feeling like there’s little to be thankful for. I’m finding it hard to be optimistic about life, or thankful for my personal blessings, when I am constantly bombarded by the darkness of our irresponsible and uncaring world.
- There are vast islands of plastic in our oceans.
- There are migrant children torn from their parents and housed in cages.
- We’re in a climate crisis, species are going extinct at an alarming rate.
- Indigenous youth are dying by suicide. So are local police officers.
- A Canadian high school student was being bullied and later stabbed to death, in front of witnesses, including his own mother
- People in Canadian cities are being sold fentanyl, and are too desperately addicted to be able to refuse the risk of using. Worse – no one seems to care
I’ve been feeling like it’s pretty hard to feel grateful and much more natural to feel despondent… presumably, much like a person afflicted with an incurable disease.
But the Gospel today is rich with meaning and leaves us with a more complex outlook on Thanksgiving.
Jesus is entering a village as a group of 10 lepers approaches him.
As we know from other Biblical stories, leprosy was a significant disease at the time. While germ-theory wasn’t well understood, there was some general recognition that people with leprocy had to be distanced from those without it. Leprocy was incurable and those afflicted by it were banned from society and considered “untouchable”.
As Jesus approaches, the group pleads with him to have pity on them.
Without ceremony, Jesus tells the group of 10 to go show themselves to the priests. Inspection by priests was a necessary as only priests, according to Jewish law, could declare a person healed of leprosy and therefore clean, and fit to re-enter society.
What’s amazing here is that the group of 10 just “head off” to go see the priests, and it is only in going or “as they were going” that they were cleansed or healed of leprocy.
One would think that would be the end of a great Gospel – these 10 diseased men believed Jesus, demonstrated their faith, and were cured. That, in and of itself should be enough of a teaching for us today, we need to be more faithful in God and our faithfulness will be rewarded. But no – there’s more.
One man, realizing he had been healed, returned to Jesus, glorifying God and falling at the feet of Jesus to thank him.
ONE. OF TEN. And not just any of the ten, the Samaritan. The outsider. The foreigner. The one who isn’t supposed to be Jesus’ follower, of whom the least is expected.
And so the nine thankless lepers were struck down by the Lord, right? That’s the lesson, right? No. Nothing more is said of the nine, presumably they went on their way, reunited with their loved ones and lived a full life. There are no negative consequence for their failings.
Because, let us be clear, those nine are grateful. There is NO WAY that those 9 lepers don’t have an “attitude of gratitude” after being cleansed of leprocy.
The point here is that the Samaritan isn’t just feeling grateful on account of his feeling of relief, he takes action. He demonstrates his gratitude by going out of his way to express his thankfulness.
I’ve been talking to a number of people about my recent dark outlook on the world. In a vast number of cases, many people have made the same recommendation: “start doing little acts of kindness” and you will see the beauty, peace and hope of the world again. No one is talking to me about making donations online or joining charity boards – though we should do that too. The consistent advice I’m receiving to go out of my way to do something for another. My acquaintances have recounted a variety of stories:
- stopping to help lost tourists;
- taking care of a friend’s children when her marriage is struggling;
- taking time to chat with an elderly neighbour who recently lost her husband.
- Bringing food to the panhandler outside my office
Jesus doesn’t smite the nine lepers, but he does bestow a favour on the one Samaritan, he says to him “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.” Other translations use “made you well” or “made you whole” from Greek. The Samaritan was already cleansed of leprocy along with the other nine. What Jesus is offering is the healing of his soul, allowing him to feel whole, to experience salvation.
So again, happy Thanksgiving. I’ve decided I’m not going to list my blessings this weekend – I think that may miss the point. I’ll pray. And then I’ll start making lists of thanksgiving actions to help me move past despondence towards healing.