There was a young man who was having a horrible childhood. He was being raised by his aunt and uncle, who made a point of giving everything possible to his obnoxious cousin and not to him. When company came, they made him lock himself in his room, and if that wasn’t enough, even had him hide under the stairs. The only reason they let him go away to Hogwarts was because the head of the school wouldn’t take no for an answer. So when trouble came, Harry Potter sided with Dumbledore, and Hagrid and his friends, partly out of gratitude for taking him away from his bad situation and bringing him somewhere where he could be himself.
Our gospel story today is about unexpected grace in a situation where things are a bad as they could be. To be a leper at that time was instant exclusion from family, job, religion. Lepers were to stand at a distance and warn people that approached: “unclean.” Leprosy changed everything about life, and everything about life was identified by the disease. The group that approaches Jesus is made up of both Jews and Samaritans: people who wouldn’t even acknowledge one another’s existence when they were healthy. The Jews hated the Samaritans, thought their religious practice abomination, called them the “Idiots who lived at Shechem”. Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem would walk on the other side of the Jordan to avoid crossing Samaritan territory.
The lepers called out for mercy, for their illness was seen as a punishment from God. Jesus don’t touch them or even tell them that they were cured, he just tells them to show themselves to the priests. So they go off. One of them noticed what happened and is filled with the desire to return and give thanks. The Samaritan. What happened to the other nine? Were they only doing what they were told? Were they oblivious to what was going on? Did they think they could find Jesus later and they had time to get back to him? We don’t know. Did they stay healed? We don’t know; but it would be a bit cruel if we assumed that Jesus withdrew his healing once he gave it; it probably doesn’t fit the way we see Jesus as God’s unconditional love.
Well, the story jars a bit because it seems as if nine men are being ungrateful. Ingratitude is something that we think is wrong even today. Gratitude seems to be the end of the story, the end of an act of kindness, the end of a relationship. Gratitude is something that’s even used as a debt to be repaid.
As we live our lives as faithful Christians, it’s easy to forget that gratitude is at the core of what we’re doing. Do you know what the original meaning of the word Eucharist is? It comes from the Greek: to give thanks. In a few moments we begin the Eucharistic Prayer, remember how it begins: The Lord be with you/ and also with you/ lift up your hearts/ we lift them up to the Lord/Let us give thanks to the Lord our God/it is right to give him thanks and praise. As the prayer goes on, the language of gratitude, of thanksgiving, is all through this prayer. Listen to it closely today. Gratitude for all the great gifts God has given us is the beginning of what we do. It is because that God has given us the great wonderful world, family and friends that love us, guidance in how to live our lives and a path to eternal life that we can come together to give thanks and praise, repent the sins we have committed and go forward to live the way that God has taught us to live.
There are many people that we are grateful for, if we stop for a moment and think about it. Some of them may have bailed us out of bad situations, or did something at the right time in the right place that made a difference, or made it possible for us to do something we wanted or needed to do. As Catholics and as Christians, our challenge is to take that gratitude and broaden it out so that it can include all that we see and motivate us in all that we do.