We are all quite conscious of the fact that only one of the cured lepers returned to give thanks to Jesus. And we are conscious, too, that the one returning was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19), one of those people despised by the pious and orthodox Jews of Jesus’s time. But have we given any thought at all to what happened to the other nine?
Well, what DID happen to them? Did their families receive them back into their homes or was there a lingering fear that they were still diseased and so they faced a frosty and unwelcome return home? Did their children recognize them? Did those who were cured experience greater devotion to God? Were they more consciously religious in how they lived their lives? Did any of them become followers of Christ and join the early Christians of their day?
We don’t know the answers to these questions. But we can have answers to a question I want to put to you now. My question is: What are the effects of ingratitude? What happens to us when we are ungrateful?
There are people who are simply ingrates; people who take, take, take… and never give. They would be startled to be told that we, all of us, need to give thanks. Giving thanks is far more important than we think; something much deeper than merely being polite. When we look closely at the lives of ungrateful people, people who take for granted everything that has been given them, people who give little or nothing to others, we see a progressive journey in stages into the hell of isolation, loneliness, and eventual bitterness.
In the first stage we find people who simply turn off others. The “turn off” has a double effect. On the one hand, being self-centered they pay scant attention to others. They are insensitive to the wants, needs, and feelings of others. They can be harsh and unaware that they treat others rudely. On the other hand they find that others around them shun them in return. They are simply not pleasant to be around. As the old truism goes, “You get what you give.” In this case if you give the cold shoulder to others you’ll get the same treatment in return.
The next thing to go is their sense of wonder. Ungrateful people expect everything to be perfect. They make their own lives and the lives of those around them miserable with their demands and their complaining. Ever notice that the word miser and the word miserable are interconnected? Miserly people, ungrateful and grasping people, are miserable people.
Descending deeper into hell we learn that people who have no gratitude in their souls never enjoy what they already have. Nothing gives them joy or happiness. Life, for them, is painted in shades of dull gray. They live colorless lives. They are boring, drab, and dreary. There’s no color in their character. You can see it in their vacant eyes.
In the next stage of our journey into the abyss of hell we find those who are never satisfied with anything they have and are never satisfied with anything others around them do. No one is good enough for them because they are no good for anyone else. Peace and contentment are driven from their hearts and souls. They’re always agitated, whining, and complaining. They become very disagreeable, argumentative, self-opinionated, self-important, self-righteous, and thoroughly self-centered. Jealously and competitiveness set in. They’re always comparing themselves with others particularly in terms of what they feel they are lacking. They ignore what they have, overlooking the good things that are theirs.
Then they become consumed with getting more. They simply must, they feel, have more and more things. The problem is the more they consume the less they are satisfied. Consequently they enter into a frantic rat-race to acquire more and more money and more and more things. Their garages are littered with junk, full of their unused gadgets and other distractions.
The leprosy of envy is next, a leprosy that eats away at their souls. Jealously, envy, and anger at others consumes their hearts and souls like uncontrolled cancer.
God is forgotten. Did the other nine simply forget about the cures Christ gave them? We don’t know. None of us know all that was in or not in their hearts. But ungrateful people eventually end up forgetting about prayer, about worshipping at Mass, about the Sacraments, about their spiritual lives. Finally they forget about God. Forgetfulness, neglect of others, and ingratitude are all interrelated… they’re all members of the same family.
Blaming God comes next. The ungrateful blame God for not having all the things they want, for not being successful, for not being happy, and for anything and everything that’s wrong in their lives.
Finally, ungrateful people eventually fill their empty souls with self-pity. They become self-pitying whiners. The end up living in their own hell of loneliness and isolated bitterness.
The lesson we can learn from all of this is to realize that gratitude, giving thanks, and being thank-full people, changes us not God. We don’t give thanks in order to change God’s mind. The beatitude of thankfulness changes us; it changes our hearts, our outlook on life, and our relationships with others. It’s a truth that sets us free. Gratitude is the BE-attitude. It changes how we live. With it we find happiness.
The healing presence of Jesus Christ remains constant. God loves us with an unconditional love. God will never turn His back on us. He is always and forever present to us; He is always for us, giving us His presence, His power, and His love. Even when we feel alienated and estranged from Him, even when we feel He is distant and that we have lost the relationship we once had with Him, He remains present to us in His Holy Spirit.
For it is always our own thinking, our own feelings, and our own attitudes that keep us alien and distant from God. The separation is of our own making. But the quickest, the easiest, and the most effective way back to a close relationship with God is found in giving thanks. It is when we are filled with gratitude that we heal and restore the attitude that opens the floodgates of healing, that removes the cancerous leprosy that consumes us, and that restore us to wholeness, to healing, to health, and to holiness.
”Were not ten made whole?” Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” To the one who gave thanks He said: “Go on your way, your faith has saved you.” These words of Christ Jesus are spoken not just to a Samaritan of 2,000 years ago. They are spoken to you and to me.
That is why we are here to celebrate Eucharist – our prayer of thanksgiving – so we can go on our ways, walking in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.