Summary: Before we criticize the nine lepers who were not grateful for their cure, we should ask ourselves if we are grateful for the good things that we have received from God.
I’m sure you have all heard of Rudyard Kipling. He is the author of famous books like The Jungle Book and Captain Courageous. His writings not only made him famous but also brought him a fortune. A newspaper reporter came up to him once and said, "Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over one hundred dollars a word.” Then the reporter reached into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred-dollar bill and gave it to Kipling and said, “Here’s a one hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Now you give me one of your hundred dollar words.”
Rudyard Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket and said, "Thanks!"
The word "thanks" is certainly a hundred dollar word. In fact, I would say it is more like a million-dollar word. It’s a small word but it has a powerful meaning. It might only have 6 letters but it gets across a message that few other words are capable of achieving.
When that little word is missing, we feel it deeply. You know what it’s like when someone doesn’t say "thanks" – you feel hurt, used, ignored, and taken for granted and you wonder why you bothered to do something for the person in the first place.
Unfortunately, ingratitude has become a way of life for many people. We find it very difficult to say thank you. I am reminded of a story about an old man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The disease made writing difficult for him since he couldn’t keep his hands still. One day he asked a young man at the post office counter to write a postcard for him. The man said sure and wrote what the old man dictated to him, and he even signed the man’s name to the postcard. When he finished he asked the old man, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The old man looked at the card, thought for a moment, and then answered, “Yes. At the end, could you just put ‘P.S. Please excuse the bad handwriting!”
This ingratitude is the story of the nine out of the ten lepers in the gospel reading today. To understand to extend to which the healing meant to these lepers, we should understand what kind of a disease it was in Biblical times. The Mosaic Law pronounced a leper as being “unclean”. They were not fit to enter into the Temple to worship. They could no longer live with their families, but the law required them to live outside the city. The Law required that they rend their clothes as a sign of extreme sorrow, that their faces be covered and that they cry out “unclean” whenever anyone came close to them. Their faces were hidden, representing that no form of intimacy could be known to them. So, to be a leper meant no intimacy with anyone, no social life, you were isolated and a total outcast. By curing them, Jesus is in a way bringing them back to a social life. That is why he asks them to present themselves to the priest and get certified of their cure. Then why don’t they turn back and thank him?
Well, maybe we could ask this question to ourselves. Do we turn back to thank God for the blessings that we receive every day? Or do we focus instead on what we don’t have? Our problem is that we take everything for granted. We forget that the blessings that come into our lives are God’s blessings before they become our achievements. What did anyone do to merit being born alive while some people were born dead or were even aborted? What did you do to deserve loving parents while many people never had any? What did you do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongue to speak, feet to walk, that some people among us do not have? How much did you pay God to make you such an intelligent and beautiful person? Think of the many wonderful teachers, friends and relations that you have had and that you still have. We take our blessings for granted. Emerson once said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.
I heard this story of a couple whose young son was killed in the war. One day they came to the parish priest and told him they wanted to give a gift to the church as a memory to their son who died in battle. The pastor said, "That’s a wonderful gesture on your part.” Then he asked them if it was ok to tell the congregation and they said that it was. So the next Sunday he told the congregation of the gift given in memory of the dead son.