18 January 2016
Homily on the Ten Lepers: On Thanksgiving
Leprosy is a living death. It causes skin tumors, kills nerves, weakens muscles and harms vision, and all that is bad enough. But the leper had to leave his city and his family as well. He was cut off from his community.
Lepers had their own community…a community in which the old distinctions between rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan, slave and free really didn’t matter any more. That’s why the group of ten lepers who approached Jesus in today’s gospel was made up of 9 Jews and 1 Samaritan. Normally they’d have nothing to do with each other. But leprosy brought them together.
When Jesus commanded the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priests, he was fulfilling the Old Testament law. Leviticus 14 says that when a leper is cleansed, he should show himself to the priest. Funny thing was, in all the Old Testament, only one leper was ever healed…and he was a Gentile. That law lay fallow until Christ came, and it’s not a stretch to say that the reason it was written was precisely to point the priests to the coming of Messiah.
But today I want to focus on the importance of giving thanks in the Christian’s life. In the Gospel lesson, the Lord Jesus is surprised that only one of the ten who were healed, returned to give him thanks…and that man was a Samaritan. Nine of the ten took the gift the Lord gave, but forgot to give thanks. They went back to life as it was before. Only one came back. He alone entered a new life.
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, I wonder how often we forget to give thanks. I wonder if we realize how central thanksgiving is to the entire Christian faith. In Romans 1, Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
Did you catch that? The way to darkness begins by knowing God and yet refusing to honor him or give him thanks. Too often we curse the symptoms around us in our culture and don’t acknowledge the cause within us: a simple lack of gratitude.
But what do we have to give thanks for? We were not leprous. No…but we were born slaves to sin and Satan, living in death until Christ came and joined us to his death and rising in Holy Baptism. And that was just the beginning. He gave to us prodigals the robe of righteousness and his own signet ring, the seal of the Holy Spirit. He feeds us week by week with his own life-giving body and blood.
I’ve told you before that sins are of two kinds: power and pleasure. Sins of power are seen especially in anger; sins of pleasure are seen especially in lust. We get angry when we think we’ve been treated worse than we think we deserve. But what do we call it when we think we’ve been treated better than we deserve? Why, that’s nothing else but gratitude…and grateful hearts pour themselves out in thanksgiving.
And what about sins of lust? When King David committed adultery, the Lord tells him, “I gave your master’s house and his wives into your care, and if that had not been enough, I would have given you more.” In other words, David fell into lust because he was not thankful for what he had been given.
When we forget to give thanks, life begins to break down. For we were made for thanksgiving, as a candle is made for burning. Even the three holy children, cast into the fiery furnace, were saved by the child of the Theotokos as they gave thanks to God and praised him.
So important is thanksgiving that St. Paul told the Thessalonians, “…in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In everything. Are you healthy? Give thanks to God for your health; he’s given it to you. Are you ill? Give thanks to God, for sickness turns our minds to him. Are you well-off? Give thanks to God, who has given you more than you need, so that you may share it with those who have less. Are you poor? Give thanks to God, for he will teach you in poverty that he is able to supply all your needs. Do you struggle with sin? Give thanks to God, who is able to help you overcome? Have you overcome some sin? Give thanks to God, for he is the one who gives the victory. Is your family a source of joy? Give thanks to God, who brought you together. Is your family a cause of grief? Give thanks to God, who gives us the grace to love the unlovely, so that we might have insight into how he loves us in Christ.
In life and in death, in sickness and in health, in riches and poverty—in everything give thanks, for in giving thanks the darkness is lifted, our minds are illumined and, as is right, God is glorified in all things: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.