There’s always one in every crowd – a show off. This is someone who always has the best of everything. If you have something, he has one better. He is stronger, faster, smarter, more talented, and better looking than you. I’ve even had the experience (in my pagan days) of being around someone who, no matter what you said about the bad things you had done, had done even worse. I always thought that was a rather odd and inverted kind of pride. If I had drank one drink, he drank five drinks. If I smoke marijuana, he had used cocaine. Well, you get the picture. Once I even boasted about something that I hadn’t really done, and sure enough, he had done even worse.
Jesus told the lepers to go and show themselves to the priest. This command was according to the Jewish law of that time, yet it was radical for Jesus to even acknowledge them. There was no disease more feared than leprosy. Not only did you suffer from disfigurement, you were completely cast out of society. No one ever acknowledged you or greeted you. We see this reality when it says in the story that the lepers stood “afar off.”
Only one came back to Jesus, and he was a hated Samaritan. The Fathers say that this shows how the Jews rejected Jesus, but He would be received by the Gentiles. This is historically true and important for we Gentiles, yet what always puzzled me was why only one returned to thank Jesus. To be healed of such a thing would, I imagine, raise incredible feelings of relief and gratitude. Today, it would be like suffering from AIDS and then finding yourself healed in one day. Gratitude would hardly express what you would feel.
Certainly, when we speak from a personal perspective, all of us are lepers. All of us have this disease that disfigures our hearts and minds to the point that we too are often unfit to keep company with anyone. Those of us who have come to Jesus have found healing and restoration, some more than others. Since we experienced that healing, have we just gone on with life, thankful for whatever blessing we have received, or have we returned to express our gratitude to him?
Though Jesus always appreciates the gratitude that we feel towards him, gratitude is more than an attitude. A life of gratitude is a constant effort to show our appreciation by what we do and say. Often, when Jesus healed someone, he would say “Go and sin no more lest a worse thing happen to you.” I don’t know what happened to the nine lepers. I hope they lived a good and happy life but I am sure that they found that there were many other things in life that still needed to be healed.
Despite all the arguments between denominations about what is necessary for salvation, Jesus said, “He who loves me keeps my commandments.” It would take a long time to discuss the commandments of Christ and how we live them, but the point is that gratitude is fundamentally an aspect of love. When we live in such a way that we are outside of his commandments we show our ingratitude for all that he has done for us. This is why we find the word “ingratitude” on the list of sins to be confessed. Ingratitude is not so much a feeling as a way of living. Forgive me for saying this but given the material, financial and social blessings that we Americans have received, we must be the most ungrateful people who ever lived.
So, healed lepers we may be, but will we return to Jesus to express our gratitude? Will that gratitude be shown by the quality of our discipleship: or, having been healed of our disease, do we leave to go live life in way that seems right to us, without much thought for the will of God? Someone once said, “Love God and do as you please.” At first this statement seems ludicrous. Yet, if we truly love God, what pleases the heart is to do the will of God.
Well, like all things, its up to us, but I invite you to be show-off. There is no greater witness than this: “once I was blind, but now I see.” Show the priest, show the family, and show everyone you meet, more by what you do than by what you say. You see all around us are lepers who long to be healed. The world has seen many who talked about their healing, but so very few who lived a life of gratitude. So, go on – show off!