Sunday, January 18, 2009

Was No One Found to Give Glory to God?

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

In our gospel lesson this morning [Luke 17:12-19] we heard that as our Lord entered into a certain village, He was met there by ten lepers who stood afar off, beseeching Him for healing. For the ancients, leprosy was a frightful disease. It manifests itself as white patches on the skin, often with running sores, and the loss of parts of the body which become necrotic. A leper was considered “unclean” by the Jews and disenfranchised from the community, lest the disease be spread. A leprous Jew could never enter the Temple, nor even come near to any other person. He was truly an exile among his own people.

To the Church Fathers, leprosy represented a deeper spiritual meaning. It is a metaphor for our sins, which make us unclean and separate us from communion with God.

The lepers stood afar off, in accordance with the Law, but cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Seeing these lepers, Jesus simply instructed them to go show themselves to the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. Notice that He commanded the men to go to the priests before they were actually healed and while their flesh was still filled with the disease. The only reason for a leper to go to the priests was to reveal that he had already been healed, and to have this healing properly verified according to the detailed commandments prescribed in Leviticus 14. Our Lord’s command to them was therefore most unusual, to say the least.

What must have been in the minds of these miserable people as they walked away from the Lord? Did some dare imagine they might still receive healing? Did others merely assume that the prophet Jesus wanted nothing to do with them and for this reason sent them away? Were they disappointed with His response or feel that they should have received better treatment? We may never know, but these are certainly human thoughts and reactions, aren’t they? Nevertheless, as the lepers made their way to the priests, they soon discovered--perhaps with considerable amazement--that they had been healed. What happened next is the focal point of this entire lesson.

Finding themselves healed, nine of the former lepers continued on to the priests, while one of them, a Samaritan, ran back to Jesus to praise God and thank Him for his healing. Seeing this, Jesus said to those around him, “And what of the nine? Was no one found to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Clearly, Jesus was speaking to the Jews around Him, and to us who read this story, of the grievous sin of thanklessness.

The most basic and essential function of man is to adore his Creator and to offer Him thanks continually. Failure to do so causes man to forget that he is God’s creation, uniquely made in God’s own image with a profoundly exalted and heavenly calling, and turns him away from this toward a meaningless existence as a creature of flesh only. Thanklessness in the face of God’s mercies was the sin of the ancient Israelites over and over, it was the sin of the Jews at Christ’s time (which prevented them from recognizing Him as the promised Messiah), and it is certainly the sin that most plagues us Christians today as well.

Every other sin that we commit proceeds from our lack of thanksgiving to God. When we neglect prayer, when we skip Orthros or other services of the Church because they’re just “inconvenient” to us, when we don’t prioritize our finances to pay our tithes to the parish or give alms to the poor, when we are utterly fixated on our earthly existence and mostly forget God in the pursuit of our endless wants and needs, when we forsake the purification of our hearts to instead indulge in unclean desires and actions, when we quarrel with others or gossip or lie, when we are constantly critical of people or complaining of situations, when we are miserable over our lot in life and feel that God has abandoned us, cannot all these sins be traced back to the root of thanklessness and the spiritual blindness and alienation from God that it causes?

When I take confessions from those who are so troubled by many concerns in life, I often counsel them to begin practicing thanksgiving. This is not an easy thing to do, and it is often the last thing a person wants to instructed in, for we tend to be so miserable in our sufferings and perhaps cannot even conceive of being otherwise. Nevertheless, I might tell them that as you are on your way and chance to notice a pretty flower growing along the sidewalk, remember that God put that there for you to enjoy. And as you reflect on that tiny gift given to you by the Almighty Creator who orders the entire universe and all that it contains, try to open your eyes and see the nearness of your God and His love for you in even the smallest details. There’s an old saying that if God seems far away, which one of you moved? God is very near to us at all times, but we in our lack of simple thanksgiving so often fail to see this, despite all the evidence that surrounds us daily.

How many a parent has been in an argument with a teen-aged child and remarked, “You know, you should be more thankful for what you have,” only to be met with rolling eyes and the sarcastic response, “Oh, right! Thankful that you won’t let me do anything and that you’re ruining my entire life?” Well, we act just like that poor, distressed teenager sometimes, being self-centered, focused only on what we are being denied instead of all the good things already given to us, and neglectful of thanksgiving.

I’ve sometimes wondered if people have listened to my little flower story and left the confessional thinking “What a silly priest!”. But did not our Lord also instruct those enslaved by worldly concerns and anxiety to behold the lilies of the field, or the tiny birds that God lovingly feeds, and to learn from these of His care for all living things? We may indeed be fallen and broken people living in a fallen and broken world, but that world is still filled with the love of God, everywhere present, but perhaps concealed from all but the thankful.

In reflecting on our gospel lesson, we might be tempted to think that while it was nice for the Samaritan to give thanks to God, the nine Jews are also to be praised for their obedience if nothing else, in continuing on to the priests as Christ instructed. Yet from our Lord’s reaction we can determine that their motives were not pure. In hastening on to the priests to fulfill the legal requirements, they only wanted to return as quickly as possible to an ordinary life, and to put all memory of this behind them. Perhaps some of these were even among those who later called out for Christ’s crucifixion. That might seem nearly impossible, but remember that a thankless man is a man who is most of all blind to God and cannot see His ways.

No, it wasn’t merely “nice” of the Samaritan to give thanks to God. By his action of thanksgiving he received, not just the healing of his body, but the blessing of Jesus and the healing of his soul as well. Let us also seek such blessing and healing in our lives, by learning through practice to give thanks to God in all things.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 1/23/2009 11:14 AM , Anonymous bq688 said...

Very nice Father Mike. A word of caution is in order: Giving thanks can be habit forming!


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