The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)
When things looks grim, that is exactly when God acts in our lives. When we lose hope and begin to feel that our world is turned upside down, that is precisely when God’s presence and work will be most clear in our lives. In today’s gospel we hear the story of ten lepers. These lepers travelled together, as a group. Why did they do this? Because they were not allowed to live near those who were healthy. They were considered impure and unclean. To be stricken with leprosy was to be given something of a death sentence. Even while you were alive you would feel the sting and pain of this sentence. You were no longer allowed to be near your loved ones, your family. You were not welcome in the markets or synagogues. You would become a complete outcast.
We find that ten lepers are together in this grim and difficult situation. Into their darkness, Christ appears as light. Their lives are impossibly difficult and Christ our Lord entered into the village and entered into their lives. They cried out to Him with loud voices “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” How would the Lord respond? He responded as the one who loves mankind and has mercy on us in our sufferings. He says to them “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Immediately they turned and went back towards the priests and as they did so, they were cleansed of their leprosy.
One of the pillars of the spiritual life is the reading and study of Holy Scripture. We often make excuses for why we don’t do it but we find that the average believer has plenty of time to dedicate just a fraction of it to the study of the word. Sometimes we think to ourselves, “what is the big deal? Will these words on the page make any difference in my life?” Yet we see from the story that one sentence from the Lord Jesus Christ can change your life. He told the lepers only one thing. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And through their obedience to this one “word” they received healing. Imagine how powerful the word of God could be if we also studied it and heard it and applied it in our lives! So this is really a powerful lesson. We should desire to hear the word of God and to fill our hearts with it.
Here is another lesson: gratitude allows the remembrance of God to grow in our hearts. After the 10 lepers were healed we find that one lone leper praised God with a loud voice. Just one! He turned back and came before Jesus and fell at His feet to give Him thanks for this incredible miracle in his life. What was the miracle? He didn’t simply cure his skin condition, the Lord gave him back his life. Our Lord expresses His pleasure at seeing the healed man return and give thanks. Parents of children understand that it is important to teach them manners and one of the first manners that we teach is the ability to always say “thank you”. God our heavenly Father also desires to see this attitude of thankfulness within us. It pleases Him. It is a sign that we understand that every good and perfect gift comes down from Him.
We can go even further in our own transformation as children of God because we can even see that difficulties, trials and painful experiences can also become a gift since they can bring us to deeper prayer and greater knowledge of God. As we began the year 2021 I kept hearing people say “thank God that 2020 is behind us, it was such an awful year.” My brothers and sisters, that is not how we demonstrate our gratitude to God for all of His generous mercies towards us. When we speak this way we are like the 9 who didn’t return to give thanks to God for all that they had received from Him.
It is not external circumstances that will bring us lasting happiness or peace or joy. It is having our happiness and peace built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken by anything or anyone. While we are discontent and looking for more, we are forgetful of all of the gifts that God has already provided for us right here and right now. Instead of a building abridge to God, through our gratitude,we build walls with our mentality that prevent us from growing closer to Him. So are there any ways to work on gratitude?
St. Gregory Palamas tells us that one way is through the diligent practice of prayer. As we persevere in prayer the prayer changesin quality and character. He writes
“Prayer changes from entreaty (asking God) to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.”
Ultimately we as the children are meant to know and to come to a deep understanding that what we are most thankful for is the Lord Himself.We are thankful for His love for us, for His sacrifice in order to give us new life. We are thankful for His forgiveness of our sins. We are thankful that He has conquered death in order to give us resurrection. He is our hope and joy and the greatest blessing of our life. If we understand in our hearts that the Lord is with us and that He will never leave us, then there is simply no way to be anything but thankful. Through Him we are rich beyond measure, blessed beyond measure and we will have life without measure. AMEN.