Gratitude for God’s Gifts

2 Kgs 5:14-17 • 2 Tm 2:8-13 • Lk 17:11-19 

We are no longer a people who are quick to show gratitude. We have spoken so long about entitlements that it rarely occurs to people to express gratitude. Witnessing this, most seminaries today have to bring in speakers to help seminarians learn about what used to be called the social graces. Why should this have to be done? Do not parents teach their children such things? A study from a few years ago revealed that, in fact, very few parents do teach children about such things as “the social graces.”

The study also revealed that children are rarely taught to write thank-you notes for gifts or for kindnesses. The expression of gratitude is one of the most fundamental signs of respect for another person.

Counting today, Thanksgiving Day is 47 days away. As we begin preparations for the day, we ask, “Do our Thanksgiving celebrations reflect and accomplish the purpose of the day, that is, gratitude?” Our Thanksgiving holiday began as an occasion for the Pilgrims to thank God for His grace, for the gift of food in a new world, and for the survival of a hard winter. The first Thanksgiving also included the Pilgrims’gratitude to the Wampanoag Indians, without whose assistance they never could have survived.

At our festive meal, will we put our gratitude for God first? Will we authentically acknowledge how many things we could never have accomplished or survived without the help of others? Will we be able to recognize humbly our dependence on others and offer true gratitude?

What do our two stories of gratitude today share? Among the common themes, the most important is that those who received healing were willing to humble themselves enough to acknowledge that they needed someone else to help them.

Naaman was a great commander in the Syrian army. Despite his reputation, he was shunned by his people because he had leprosy. (We are not certain what skin ailment he or the Ten Lepers had. While true leprosy, Hansen’s Disease, was known in the Middle East at the time, the Hebrew word used in the Bible was also used for other skin diseases.) Naaman’s wife had an Israelite servant girl who had been taken captive by the Syrian army. The girl suggested that the prophet Elisha in Samaria could heal the terrible disease. Naaman told his king what the girl had said, and the king sent Naaman to seek a cure.

Being a commander, Naaman was used to being treated with respect, and being a member of the royal court, protocol would have been important to him. So when, instead of going himself, Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman with instructions to wash in the Jordan River seven times, Naaman felt insulted and went away angry. Protocol demanded that the prophet deal with Naaman directly. It was no surprise that the commander’s pride and demand for protocol led him to refuse to follow the prophet’s instructions. Fortunately for Naaman, his desire to be cured led him to listen to his servants and humbly agree to participate in the prescribed ritual.

The affliction of the lepers who approached Jesus was worse than mere sickness. Their affliction was thought to be a consequence of sin. For this reason, to keep citizens away from sinners sinners and to protect against disease, the Law demanded that lepers live outside the community.

What about their gratitude? We too often focus on the failure of the nine to return; however, this was not a surprise to Jesus. The protocol of the day was that social equals were not required to give thanks to each other. People offered thanks only to those who were socially higher than themselves. At the time, to give thanks was to acknowledge that the person being thanked was more important than the recipient of a gift or a kindness.

What else did Naaman and the thankful Samaritan leper have in common? They recognized that ultimately God was responsible for their cures. They gave thanks for God’s gifts, thus acknowledging His greatness. The people Jesus was teaching were failing in their expression of gratitude for God’s gifts. Worse, it was only foreigners who recognized the compassion and generosity of the God of the Jews!

The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” Is our presence at the Eucharist a true expression of gratitude for God’s gifts? Will our Thanksgiving this year have real meaning? TP