Homily for Thanksgiving Day
Did the others even realize they were healed?
That is the question the Lord laid on my heart as I meditated on this gospel:
The nine other lepers who failed to return and give thanks to Jesus…Did they even realize what had happened to them? Did they even bother to notice the great gift that had been given to them?
Why ask this question? Well, as the gospel passage from Luke goes, ten lepers cry out to the Lord: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” The Lord responds by telling them to go show themselves to the priests. And as they were going, the text says, “they were cleansed.”
Then comes a fascinating verse:
“And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”
The gospel text says nothing about the other nine even realizing they were healed!
This makes a lot of sense given the context of Luke’s gospel. Immediately following this story about the ten lepers, Jesus speaks of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and He says point blank that it will be really easy to overlook:
“The kingdom of God,” Jesus says “is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Behold, here it is!’ or ‘There! … for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Maybe the nine ungrateful lepers missed the “coming of the kingdom” in their lives — Perhaps they were totally oblivious that their lives had been changed forever by Christ?
This is quite applicable to our lives today. I can certainly speak for myself — my ingratitude usually boils down to a selfish lack of awareness.
Never have I called to mind all the blessings the Lord has given me — my faith, my family, my friends, my health, my vocation to the priesthood, and — with my heart hardened and my chest puffed up proclaim: I AM NOT GRATEFUL TO YOU, GOD.
No. That’s just not how it happens. Rather, my ingratitude usually consists in simply not noticing… not realizing… not even being aware of my blessings. Like the nine ungrateful lepers, I just go blindly on to the next thing, the next task… I move on with my life, carelessly leaving Jesus in the dust.
I think at the heart of all this is a kind of forgetfulness. Over and over again, we forget a central Christian truth:
We are ALL ‘Healed Lepers.’
This is the bold claim of our faith. right? Jesus Christ was sent by God the Father not to call the righteous, the perfect, and the hyper-religious. No, he came to call spiritual lepers. He came to heal deformed, broken hearts — twisted by hatred, jealousy, and pride.
He came to cleanse us! Brothers and sisters: Realize what God has accomplished in you! Take note! You are destined for eternal life. Don’t over look that! The night before Jesus died on the Cross, as he finished washing the feet of his disciples, he turned to them all and asked: “Do you know what I have done for you?”
At every mass, we have a chance to reply: Yes Lord! We know what you’ve done for us! We know you cleansed us! We know you healed us! We know we don’t have to pretend to be perfect Church-people who somehow deserve something from You. No, we humbly claim our true identity: We are healed lepers who, by God’s grace, appreciate what has happened to us. So we come here, Lord — to this Altar, and we join You, Jesus, in giving thanks to the Father of mercies for giving us EVERYTHING in You.
And this brings me to my final point:
When we look around on Sunday and see empty pews… When friends and family stop coming to mass, perhaps Jesus’ question from the end of our gospel passage comes to mind:
“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?”
Where is everyone else? Why are they not here with us around this altar?
Imagine this: What if the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus, instead of coming back alone, had turned to his friends and said… “Guys…guys…hold on a second: I’M HEALED! AND WOAH YOU’RE HEALED TOO! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS? LET’S GO BACK, GUYS…. LET’S THANK JESUS TOGETHER.”
They might have ignored him, sure. But what if they listened? Just think of how much joy it would have brought Jesus if he saw all ten healed lepers coming back to him — the Samaritan leading the charge!
This is what evangelization is supposed to look like! It’s not about jamming God down people’s throats or arguing people into conversion. No, no!
Sharing the Gospel is about helping others to finally realize what Christ has done for them. The Church exists for this very reason: To announce to all the world: That in Christ, we are all healed lepers, loved intensely by a generous and good God. The only appropriate response to that kind of amazing gift is pure thanksgiving.