2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
In Sunday’s Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus heals a group of ten lepers, but only one of them returns to thank Him. Jesus asks, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" I have often surmised that the other nine might have been so eager to get back to their former lives that they didn’t even take time to stop and give thanks. We must never forget to stop and give thanks for what God has done for us!
As I reflect on the wars and conflicts raging in countries such as Syria and Egypt and Afghanistan and Iraq and so many other places that are not even on my radar, and when I think about the government slowdown/shutdown around the implementation of Obamacare/The Affordable Health Care Act (Whichever side you’re on usually determines which terms you use), Jesus’ question – "Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" – has generated some questions of my own.
For instance, it seems that these ten lepers were together. Does that mean that there were Jews and Samaritans together? Jews and Samaritans were supposed to hate each other. After the ten got cleansed, did they just go their separate ways, with the Jews and Samaritan(s) especially returning back to the old divisions and hatreds? The situation reminds me of something I learned from a Public TV series on the Great Depression. In the early 1930’s, a good number of Army veterans marched on Washington, D.C., and actually set up camps in the city. They were trying to get the bonuses they were promised before the economy went sour (sound familiar?). According to the program, these camps were integrated. At that time, the armed forces were not integrated, but the shared desperation of their situation had brought them together, ignoring the social conventions and prejudices at that time. There was a very controversial dispersing of the veterans led by General Douglas MacArthur, and after the veterans left, it seemed that things went back to the way they were. After 9-11, the U.S. seemed to be united for a time, but it wasn’t long before the partisan bickering began again.
At a recent retreat center board meeting, the members reflected on an article written by John Shea called "Soul Seeing." In the article Shea reflects on how the commonality of suffering can bring us together, without judging or comparing. I see the truth of the article, but it seems that this bringing together does not happen on a bigger scale. There are people suffering from all the things I mentioned above, but that doesn’t seem to bring us any closer together. Could it be because the experience isn’t seen as shared? And therefore we don’t let the common experience change how we think about each other?
Perhaps the biggest difference between the one leper who returned and the nine who did not is not so much between gratitude and ingratitude. The biggest difference may be that the nine got their old lives back, but the tenth leper’s life was changed. The tenth man’s life was changed, not just restored, by his encounter with Jesus. And so he gave thanks.
Our encounter with Jesus, especially at the Eucharist, is meant to change our lives. At Mass, we share in the sacrifice of Jesus. We celebrate His Passion and death and Resurrection for our salvation! As human beings, we can all relate to His suffering. On various levels, our sharing in Jesus’ sacrifice and our love of Jesus is to change us and help us when our faith leads us contrary to the divisions and prejudices and injustices of the world. The disease of leprosy did not respect the divisions between Jews and Samaritans. Neither did Jesus. I daresay neither should we.
May our suffering engender within us empathy and compassion. May it not isolate us but bring us together. May we see the suffering of others as connected to our own. And may our encounter with Jesus change our lives and lead us to bring down divisions and help change the world.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.