On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
Leprosy, a disease still prevalent in warm climates, was widespread in the Middle East at the time of Jesus, and was not unknown in Europe. Those suffering from it were segregated and lived in leper colonies outside the towns and villages. They depended on alms for their subsistence. They had to warn anyone who approached them of their condition, by ringing a bell and shouting “unclean,” as the disease was held to be highly contagious.
The incident of the ten lepers happened as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, where he was to die on the cross, so that we could live eternally. The church brings it before our minds today, not so much to remind us of the mercy and kindness of Jesus to all classes, even the outcasts, as lepers were, as to make us see and be amazed at the depths of ingratitude to which we can sink.
This but one of many such examples of ingratitude that occurred during Jesus’ public ministry, most of those he miraculously cured forget to thank him. In today’s incidents there was one, and he was the one least expected to do so, who had the decency to return and thank his benefactor. This pleased our Lord and led him to remark on the ingratitude of the others, “Were not all ten made whole, where are the other nine?”
He was surprised and also sad for their sakes, not for his own. They missed greater graces through this lack of appreciation and gratitude.
All ten showed great faith and confidence in Jesus’ power to heal. They had not heard him preach nor had they seen any of miracles. They lived in isolation camps, yet they believed the reports they had heard. They all were very obedient too. They set off for Jerusalem to carry out the command of Jesus, even though their leprosy had not yet left them.
In all of this it was their own self-interest which came first in the minds of the nine Jews. Once they found their leprosy gone all they thought of was their own good fortune. Their benefactor was quickly forgotten. The Samaritan’s first thought, on the other hand, was of the one who had healed him. He was as delighted as the others with his cure but being generous and thoughtful for others, he felt it his bounden duty to return and thank the man who had done him this miraculous good turn.
While we are ashamed of our fellowmen who were so ungrateful, and who treated the loving Jesus so shamefully, let us see if we have improved very much in our way of acting towards our Saviour. Those Jewish lepers did not know that Jesus was the Son of God who assumed human nature, became man, in order to raise us up to a new super-nature status. He gave them the gift of physical health for t0, 40,or 50 years more. We know that he has come to give an eternal life – a life free from all troubles and worries “where all tears will be wiped away and death shall be no more.”
With this knowledge then of what Christ means to us, of what his incarnation has won for us, of the eternal freedom from all sickness and death which is his human life, death and resurrection have put at our disposal, how can any real Christian ever cease thanking him, could here be such a being as an ungrateful Christian ever on earth?
Unfortunately, there is not only one such ungrateful being, but there are millions of them. How many of us here present are numbered amongst these ungrateful ones? There are those of us who think of God only when we are in difficulties. While things are going well, when there is no sickness in the home, when our business is prospering, when there is peace all around us, how many times in the week do we say “thank you, God, you are very good to me.” When trouble strikes it is a different matter, we rush to church, we implore God to have pity on us, we make novenas to our special saints. This is not wrong. What is wrong, however, is that we forgot to thank God all the time that he was giving us spiritual and temporal favour.
We all need to be more grateful to God every day of our lives – more grateful than we have been. He has not only given us life on this earth with its joys and its sorrows, but he has prepared for us a future life where there will be no admixture of sorrows. It is for that life that we are working. It is because there is a heaven after death that we are Christians. God has already done his part in preparing this heaven for us. He is assisting us daily to get there. We need a lot of that assistance and one of the surest ways of getting further benefits from God as well as from mankind is show true gratitude for the benefits already received. Amen.