Gospel Commentary Luke 17:11-19
The 10 lepers desired to be healed and they hoped that they could be healed. The arrival of Jesus in their village gave them a chance to be healed like others He had healed elsewhere. Of course, their minds and hearts were focused on their affliction and their needs. We don’t expect them to be expressing gratitude to Him before their healing. But would it have been possible? Grateful for what? Their lives were miserable compared to the lives of others who enjoyed good health.
In fact, they, like us, had plenty to be thankful for even in the midst of their illness. We can notice that they are all able to walk and stand and shout. Their lives are tough but they are still alive and they have enough spirit to recognize that healing is at least a possibility. Jesus’ presence stirs up their hope for healing. They call out to Him and, upon following His simple instructions, they are cleansed or healed of their leprosy. We can imagine how relieved, excited and happy they felt. We can share their joy. Can we notice, though, that they also lose something, something they perhaps never valued or welcomed?
The key to discovering what they lose by their healing is found in the likely fact that they weren’t living grateful lives in the first place. During their affliction they were focused on their affliction. Understandably, we might say. If we look more deeply, or if we examine the outlook of holy people, we can find a way of finding the blessings in life no matter what the conditions of our lives might be at the time. The potential sadness, loneliness, and despair of life as a leper are obvious to us. We might consider how we might feel if were to be diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating illness. For Christian believers the situations of our lives become invitations to see everything in the context of God’s love for us. In the midst of affliction a believing person can find the good. In the midst of suffering the believing person can learn to love in a deeper way. The peaceful (and even joyful) acceptance of suffering is a constant theme found among the sick by those who minister to them. It is inspiring to see and it is evidence for the presence of God and of his constant support to us in our need. It is not unusual to hear a sick person express gratitude for so many blessings, even for the blessing of the illness. Suffering can teach people what they might otherwise never learn. Compassion, in fact, can be borne and grow within a person who accepts all aspects of his life with a spirit of gratefulness.
We do not know more about these 10 lepers than the Gospel tells us. We find them together asking for Jesus’ healing help. He notices clearly that there are 10 of them. One of them was a Samaritan. As it turns out, the outsider, the Samaritan “foreigner,” is the grateful one. If we take the 10 as a small community of suffering people we can imagine the possibility of them working together and supporting each other in their time of need. Their shared suffering gives them an “acceptable” reason to be together when they would not otherwise have been. If the Samaritan lived with a grateful heart he might have been teaching the others how to find God in their challenging lives. His response to the gift Jesus gives him indicates that he had such a heart, a heart which recognized and acknowledged all of God’s blessings.
In our parish families we can cultivate a spirit of community by expressing gratitude for everything God decides to share with us. That grateful spirit will open our hearts to the plight of our brothers and sisters around us. There is always another reason to be grateful to God. We will miss many of these reasons if we never get past the part of prayer which asks for something from God. We will miss many more if we never learn to share with our brothers and sisters the reasons for our gratitude, which should, of course, include them and theirs.
Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.