Gospel: Luke 17:11-19 - Ten lepers were healed.
“There were ten cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?
You can understand Jesus’ surprise can’t you at the ingratitude of the nine? Can you imagine being healed of something as horrible as leprosy and not coming back to say thank you? As I was thinking about this story, and the whole idea of ingratitude, it struck me. You know who the most ungrateful of all are; the people who never get leprosy in the first place.
I’m a cancer survivor and I know from my experience that nearly everyone who gets cancer and survives is so grateful for that healing. But the truth is shouldn’t we be grateful every day for being healthy? How often do we drop to our knees and say: “Thank you God for my good health!”
Just as Jesus did so much for the ten lepers, so he has done so much for us. And our response, for the most part, is a lot like the response of the ten lepers. Only one out of ten of us takes the time to give thanks to Jesus. We get so caught up in our day to day lives that we forget all about Jesus.
The truth is when we flip a switch, and there is electric light we should say: “Thank you Lord!” You turn on a faucet, and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water, that’s a gift millions and millions in the world will never experience. And we forget to be grateful. Some people were never taught to be a grateful person.
A few years ago, a local high school student went to Nicaragua during his summer vacation to do volunteer work. He accompanied a medical team to a tiny mountain village. Life in the village was primitive. Most of the children had no clothes and were inadequately fed. The houses, built right on the ground, were made from old lumber and banana leaves. The medical team vaccinated the villagers against polio and measles. Sometimes they had to turn children away because they had already gotten the disease. The high school boy found this especially heartbreaking.
When he returned home he wrote in an article for the local newspaper about his experience. He said: “By the end of the first week of work, I started feeling sorry—even guilty— for the conditions these people lived in. I became homesick and depressed.
“One night I was sitting outside in the darkness. I was thinking about home, my girlfriend, and why I had volunteered. I asked myself why people had to live like this. Whose fault was it? Why did God permit it? “Then I heard someone in the darkness. It was José Santos, the schoolteacher and the father of the family that I lived with. He sat down next to me, tilted his chair back against the wall, and stared up at the sky. “After a minute, he broken the silence, saying, ‘Isn’t it great!’ “I questioned what he said, and he repeated, ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ His eyes were still staring up at the sky. “I tilted my head and looked up. I hadn’t noticed that the sky was lit up with millions of stars. “It was spectacular. The two of us just sat there looking up at the stars. It was an experience I will never forget.
“The next morning I got up early to bathe. Walking through the woods to the river where we washed, I stopped to look around. Everything was green. The only sounds were those of birds and running water. “Then I remembered what Jose had said: ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ At that moment I felt great. Everything fell into place. “Never before had I felt so thankful for all that God had given me. Never before had I felt so loved. “As we vaccinated the villagers that day, I had such a big smile on my face that my cheeks actually hurt toward the end of the afternoon.’’
I like that story. It makes two important points. First, it recalls the two groups of people whom Jesus talks about in today’s gospel: those who are grateful for God’s gifts to them and those who are not. Second, the story illustrates the point that if children grow up to be ungrateful, it’s probably because they were never taught to be grateful. The high school student in the story became grateful because José Santos taught him to be grateful.
A few years ago I saw David Steindl-Rast a Benedictine monk give a presentation at a conference on gratitude. He stood on a stage in front of a gigantic video screen looking very much out of place in his brown monk’s habit and his sandaled feet. He spoke with a heavy Austrian accent. He said: “There is something you know about me, something very personal, and there is something I know about every one of you that is very central to your concerns. There is something that we know about everyone we meet anywhere in the world on the street that is the very mainspring of whatever they do and whatever they put up with and that is that all of us want to be happy. In this we are all together. How we imagine our happiness, that differs from one to another, but it’s already a lot that we all have in common that we want to be happy.”
But his topic wasn’t happiness, it was gratefulness. And so he asked, “How is the connection between happiness and gratefulness?” Many people would say, ‘Well that’s very easy. When you are happy you are grateful.’ But think again. Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything it would take to be happy and they are not happy because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. Because they are grateful.” “So it is not happiness that makes us grateful,” he said, “it is gratefulness that makes us happy.” And in that one sentence, David Steindl-Rast reveals the secret of happiness — It comes from being grateful. When you receive something valuable, and you receive it as a gift, not something you work for, not something you earn, not something anyone owes you ... then you are grateful.
Brother David made a beautiful video on gratefulness that I watch whenever I’m feeling low. You can find it on YouTube, just search these four words: Nature
... and Louie
. Louie Schwartzberg was the videographer. Louie’s visuals are amazing and the voice you hear is Brother David. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2egMSliB8DE
Elie Wiesel, who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps , wrote often of his experiences. He once said: “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.” Gratefulness is the key to a happy life. A key we all hold in our hands.
Jesus was surprised that only one came back to be grateful.
Will he be surprised by our lack of gratitude too?