years ago I visited a doctor friend of mine. He was almost crying
with joy. He showed me an envelope which contained an amount of money
and a letter which said, “Doctor, when I was sick you helped
me and never asked for anything because you knew that I could not
pay. I have just landed a fairly good job. I am sending you something
from my first pay packet just to say, ‘thank you’.”
My doctor friend commented, “you do not often meet that kind
Main, the great Benedictine teacher of prayer, used to say that probably
one of the greatest sufferings that Jesus had to endure was people’s
unawareness of his unbounded love for them. The fact that he sometimes
felt this is brought out in today’s Gospel story. As Jesus approaches
an unidentified village, he is met by ten lepers. They recognize him
and cry out for help. Jesus does not cure them immediately but tells
them to go and present themselves to the priest. This was a legal
requirement since the priest was the equivalent of a health officer
who had to confirm the cure before the leper was allowed to return
to the normal life of the community.
ten lepers set out, probably complaining inside and feeling that they
were being given the runaround once more. But as they hobbled along,
the one on a crutch gasped in awe as he saw his leg grow under him.
The one with a half eaten face beamed with a rich smile. They all
saw growth happening: their finger stumps expanded into normal hands.
When this happened one of them makes a U-turn back to Jesus, to thank
him. Surprisingly he is a Samaritan: it is an outsider who becomes
a model of gratitude and faith. Jews and Samaritans would, normally,
never be seen in each other’s company, but the common identity
of outcasts had driven them into brotherhood. Now that they are cured,
separation returns immediately. It is the one who is still outcast
who moves towards Jesus.
response to the Samaritan’s return testifies to his personal
hurt at people’s ingratitude. “Were not ten cleansed?
Where are the other nine?” He asks. Why were they not moved
to praise God who made their cure possible? Jesus’ response
also shows us that it is normal for us to expect gratitude when we
help others. It is normal, too, to be hurt by ingratitude.
gratitude like any other good thing can become addicting, be resisted,
and be used for manipulation. There are some people who give compulsively
because deep down they need to be needed. They are always helping,
even if the other persons do not need or ask for help. Gratitude and
affirmation has become a drug for which they crave because of their
own insecurity. Recently, I asked a friend to recommend a plumber
to me. He then added, “if you praise and thank him enough for
his work, he probably will not charge you for it.” There are
others who resent being in need and so also resent the person that
helps them. Mark Twain wrote, “if you pick up a starving dog
and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal
difference between a dog and a human being.” For these people,
expressing gratitude is a sign of weakness and seen as something that
makes themselves vulnerable. Gratitude like all beautiful things can
be used also for manipulation. An act of kindness can be done, not
to help the other, but to imprison them in a web of gratitude. Parents
often use gratitude to manipulate their children. It then becomes
a vice rather than a virtue.
the central act of worship for Christians, comes from a Greek word
for giving thanks. Giving thanks is an essential Christian attitude
because it acknowledges the fact that all we have is gift from God.
When we come before God to pray and worship we do not give to God
– we just give back to God a little of the time God has given
us and just be present before him in thankfulness for the wonders
of creation. However, this is not what always happens in prayer. Many,
unconsciously, perceive prayer as a way of putting God in their debt,
of binding God to do our wills.
prayer is free and freeing. It is the prayer of the other leper in
the Gospel who came before Jesus and said, “Lord, if you will
it, you can make me clean.” The leper was free in the sense
that he was willing to continue in his affliction if God so willed
it. He was also setting Jesus free, not demanding a particular response
from him. We hear Jesus joyfully respond to such a free prayer. To
meditate is also to be joyfully present before the Lord. It is not
making demands or trying to put the Lord in our debt. It is being
present in gratitude before a God whom we know loves us, and who will
never give us the second best.