As he [Jesus] was entering a village, ten lepers met (him). They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
The theme for this reflection is taken from the Eucharistic Prayer (used by Catholics). Part of the prayer-dialogue between the priest and the people goes:
Priest: The Lord be with you
People: And with your spirit
Priest: Lift up your hearts
People: We lift them up to the Lord
Priest: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
People: It is right and just
Then the priest-celebrant responds by saying: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks Father most holy…” (cf. The Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II).
It easy to take for granted the abundant unmerited favors the Lord showers on his people. The passage from Luke 17:11-19 is an important reminder. Ten lepers petition the Lord for deliverance. Jesus responds by directing them to go show themselves to the priest. They are healed on the way and only one of them returns to thank the Lord. From the passage we know that Jesus was expecting to be thanked. When the nine failed, he was clearly displeased. By contrast, he graciously accepted the sacrifice of thanksgiving from the Samaritan.
Without attempting to explore all the rich details in this passage, let us focus on two significant points. First, Jesus’ reaction to the “grateful one” and the “ungrateful nine” indicates that thanksgiving is a duty humans owe to God, for he says: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Luke 17:18). The duty or obligation to give God thanks is not limited to people who have been cleansed from leprosy. The nine ungrateful represents all those who do not realize how good the Lord is to them. The very fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God imposes on us the duty to always and everywhere give thanks. As the Psalmist says: “Let everything that has breath give praise to the LORD!” (Ps 150:6). Again, Psalm 145:10 says: “All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O LORD, and all thy saints shall bless thee!” As the Eucharistic Prayer makes clear, not only is it right, but it is just to give thanks to the Lord. Justice demands that the creature give thanks to the Lord. To give thanks to the Lord, therefore, is to give him his due: “Praise is due to thee, O God, in Zion” (Ps 65:1, RSV, or v. 2 in other versions). The passage about the ten lepers illustrates the duty to remember to give thanks. Christ’s displeasure with the ungrateful nine is a stark reminder to all that it is our duty to show gratitude, and that failure to give thanks comes close to injustice against God. It is right and just to give thanks.
The second lesson from the passage is equally significant. At the end of the passage, Jesus says to the now cleansed leper: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19). Noteworthy here is the progression, on the part of the cleansed leper, from giving thanks to receiving the blessing of salvation from Christ: go, your faith has saved you. This leper started with a simple gesture of gratitude. He ended with divine approval. This is the key step that the other nine missed. Yes, they were cured, but what became of their cure? What is a cure without friendship with God? What is the point of being cured only to incur the displeasure of the Lord? What is a cure without the supreme gift of salvation and divine favor? They got a gift, but not the Gift. They got only a cure. The grateful leper got more than a cure. He won the favor, approval, and salvation blessings of Christ. What is the deep lesson here? Thanksgiving, even for seemingly insignificant things, opens divine doors of approval, grace, and salvation. The Eucharistic Prayer captures this truth perfectly when it says: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.
Perhaps, another illustration of this progression from thanksgiving to salvation would help. Naaman, a leper, is cured when he follows the instruction of the man of God, Elisha (2Kings 5:1-14). He too, like the Samaritan in Luke 17, returns to offer a gift of gratitude to the man of God. Of course, Elisha declines Naaman’s gifts. But, let us note what happens immediately after that: “Then Naaman said, “If not, I pray you, let there be given to your servant two mules’ burden of earth; for henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD” (2Kings 5:17). Notice the shift, on Naaman’s part, from gratitude to conversion to the God of Israel. What he has is more than freedom from leprosy. He has embraced the salvation offered by the God of Israel. For Naaman, thanksgiving became a duty and a path to salvation. We have something to learn here.
There is power in giving thanks. It is our duty and our salvation. Let us remember to give thanks.
Invitation to pray:
Dear Lord, I fall at your feet and thank you for you are all good. Cover me with your Blood. Empower me with your Spirit and fill me with the spirit of gratitude. As I give thanks, open to me the treasures of salvation. Amen