Gentiles had no real recognition within Israelite society. They were pagans. While they were to be accorded decent treatment, they were always in a subordinate, even marginal position.
Leprosy is a serious disease in which results is serious skin lesions and deformities. A leper was considered unclean and was barred from any contact with the community. To be both a Gentile and a leper was to come as close to being a non-person as could be imagined.
The closest example I can imagine as a non-person today, might be a homeless or illegal immigrant with Aids or Tuberculosis. Most people would not have anything to do with them.
Yet, it is a pagan leper who comes to Elisha the prophet in today’s first reading, and it is a Samaritan leper who returns gratefully to Jesus after his cure in today’s Gospel.
The powerful pagan army officer Naaman, in the first reading, was from a gentile country north of Israel. He suffered from leprosy. He had learned of the prophet Elisha’s healing power through an Israelite servant girl. He then undertook a journey to Israel to seek help with his disease from the famous prophet. At the prophet’s direction, Naaman bathes in the Jordan River and is cured of his leprosy.
Naaman attempts to pay Elisha for curing him. Elisha refuses to accept any money, because the cure came from God, not from Elisha. At that point Naaman began to realize that his pagan Gods could not do what the God of Israel had done; and that his gods probably did not exist. However, his understanding of gods was linked to the land. He asked Elisha for two mule loads of Israeli dirt so that he could worship Yaweh on Israeli earth, even if he was living in a different country. Naaman knew in his heart that he owed a great debt of gratitude to the God of the Israelites.
Luke’s gospel about the cure of the ten lepers is told with the story of Naaman the leper in mind. In both cases lepers are cured. In both cases, the non-Israelite displays sincere gratitude for the gift of healing he has received. Earlier in Luke, we heard the story of the “Good Samaritan”. Samaritans were seen as pagans by the Jews. In both the parable of the Good Samaritan and in this story, Jesus uses Samaritans to demonstrate virtues that should have been expected from God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Jesus is demonstrating how God’s chosen people had apparently lost all sense of gratitude to God for all he had done for them.
These stories reveal the importance of gratitude in our relationship with God. God is blessing us constantly with many blessings. Our challenge is to show our gratitude to Him for the many blessings we have received. When we lose all sense of gratitude to God, of what use is our faith?
How often do we say, “Thank you” for anything? For a spouse’s love? For a parent’s love? For a good deed done for us? Sincere gratitude is one of those behaviors we can use to measure maturity. We teach our children to show gratitude. We can see their immaturity when they are ungrateful. Over time we can see their growth in gratitude in their manners. God can see our spiritual maturity when we are grateful.
Thanksgiving is not a season or a date, but a disposition of our hearts. Thanksgiving is born of the realization that we don’t deserve or earn the blessing, but that it is given freely. If we were honest with ourselves, we would realize that everything we have comes from God. Nothing of our own really belongs to us.
We offer Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving” to God. We don’t come to Mass because we get something out of it, but to show our thanksgiving. If we don’t come to Mass, then we are refusing to share in the thanksgiving to God.
We are challenged to tithe to our church and those in need. Tithing means to give a tenth of everything we earn. We are also told in the scriptures that if we cast our bread on the waters, God will bless it and return it to us many times over. And, yet, it appears to be so very difficult for us to show our gratitude, not only to others, but also to God. Tithing remains a spiritual challenge to us. Tithing is also a sign of spiritual maturity. Where there is little tithing, spirituality has not matured. In our own parish community, we are grateful to those who tithe. However, so few give anything, if at all; and so few Catholics tithe. I propose to you that tithing and gratitude are not only for those who have a lot, but for all members of the community. No matter how much you have, give something. Then, as you grow spiritually, and in the discipline of giving, you will increase your awareness of the gifts you have received from God. Gradually, you will grow spiritually in the amount that you give and share as your gratitude increases.
Tithing is spiritual work. Prayer and tithing go together. If you pray and do not tithe, who are you kidding? We don’t want to be like the other nine lepers who received so much in their cure, but were not grateful.