All of today’s readings call us to a renewal of faith, and to live our faith in a spirit of true thanksgiving. The Gospel tells of Jesus’ healing of ten lepers who cry out to him for mercy. They stand at a distance because that is what the Law requires, but because they pray, they are able to reach him. Indeed, it is by prayer that we draw near to the heart of God, even if we are prevented from going to a church or sacred place. Faith in Christ Jesus makes us “bold enough to approach God in complete confidence” (Eph 3:12). These ten lepers all have enough faith to pray for their healing: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” The Lord’s response is to direct them to the priests, who are charged in the Law to verify when anyone has recovered from leprosy. The lepers obey the Lord, and on the way they are all cured. Prayer and obedience has led to a physical healing.
Up to this point, all ten seem the same to us, but now an important difference emerges: one of the ten turns back to thank Jesus and to praise God for the miraculous healing. Jesus is not surprised at the return of the Samaritan, but at the failure of the other nine to do the same. The Samaritan has something the others lack. Jesus identifies it for us: faith. He says to the man, “Your faith has saved you.” The faith of the other nine was enough to gain them a physical healing and to restore them to the practice of the Old Law, but the faith of the Samaritan leads to his salvation in the Lord Jesus. They are healed, but he is saved. They are cleansed of leprosy, but he is cleansed of sin. They show themselves to the Levitical priests; he shows himself to the High Priest of the New Covenant.
We need faith in order to be able to ask for blessings from God. But we need a deeper kind of faith to entrust ourselves to God after we realize we have already been blessed. Most of the blessings we receive go unnoticed. We take so much for granted. Often we do not even think of giving thanks to God. If our relationship with God is limited to turning to him to meet our needs, then once we have received what we want, we have no more need for God. The faith that leads to salvation is not like that; it opens our eyes to see that we are constantly in need of God, and that we should be constantly grateful for his blessings. We can never finish thanking, praising, and glorifying God! In Heaven, it will be our joy to thank and praise him without ceasing.
The highest form of thanksgiving we can offer to God is the Mass. We read in the Catechism: “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving’” (CCC 1360). We can learn from the Samaritan leper how we should approach the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. When he returns to Jesus after his healing, he falls at his feet and thanks him – in the original Greek, eucharistōn. When we come before the Lord at Mass or in Eucharistic Adoration, we prostrate ourselves like this before him, with hearts full of gratitude and praise. The Lord has not let the leprosy of our sin create a distance between us and him; he has come to us to heal us with his merciful love. How can we not overflow with gratitude?
We see the same spirit of grateful praise in the first reading. Another foreign leper, Naaman, is cured by the Lord through the prophet Elisha. Elisha rightly refuses to take any credit; he is only the Lord’s instrument. Naaman will not leave until he can find a way to honor and thank the Lord. His solution is to take back to Damascus “two mule-loads of earth.” He thinks that the Lord can only be worshipped in the land of the Israelites, so he resolves to bring a piece of Israel home with him, so that he can always honor the Lord on holy ground. “For I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the LORD.” We who know that the Lord is not limited to one place or another can learn from Naaman to be just as resolute to worship only the true God, and to make of our hearts an altar in his honor. God alone deserves all our praise and thanksgiving. With this conviction we journey in faith, joyfully placing ourselves in his service.
How has faith healed my spiritual and physical sickness? In what ways am I like the nine lepers who did not thank the Lord and like the Samaritan who did? When have I failed to approach God in complete confidence?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.