"Go show yourselves to the priests." As they were going they were cleansed. 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. He was a Samaritan. . . . Jesus said in reply, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? "Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
This Sunday we meet ten people suffering from leprosy begging to be healed. Jesus does so, not by laying on his hands, but by sending them away. But one comes back, praising God, and Jesus’ response is kind of salty. The subtext I hear is, “After all I’ve done for you, the only one who thanks me is this guy. Ingrates!” Geesh, Jesus, they were just following your directions.
As a kid, I was kind of a rule follower too, even when expressing gratitude. I only wrote thank you notes because my mom told me to. It’s not that I took gifts I received for granted, but I resisted writing letters. I found over time, though, through the act of writing, as I reflected on what I was thankful for and expressed it to my aunts, grandmas, and neighbors, I did feel genuine gratitude. I recognized that they were showing me their love through whatever they gave me, and I realize that I loved them too, not because of their gifts, but because of their care for me.
True gratitude is not an obligation. It’s something that wells up from within. Gratitude opens me. It diminishes pettiness and judgment and reminds me that I’m loved and cared for. There’s no need to be small or anxious; there’s enough love to go around, and more than enough. God tends to offer abundance, not scarcity or even adequacy, but abundance. When I am aware enough to notice, my genuine response is gratitude.
How do we move from obligation to gratitude? This past week I happened to catch part of an interview with Jewel, a singer songwriter who’s in town promoting a wellness fair. She described her experiences with homelessness during her early young adult years. During that time, she was filled with anxiety and fear. “Being homeless is exhausting,” she said. She realized that she had to change her life and that it had to begin by changing her attitude. Part of how she did that was to work on gratitude. Even though she had nothing, she noticed the beauty of the sunrise, and felt grateful. She recognized that San Diego wasn’t a bad place to be homeless, considering, and she was grateful. Little by little her anxiety lessened. She moved from contraction to expansion, from fear to gratitude. She opened herself to possibility and gradually moved into a music career. Jewel’s reflection helped me to realize that there’s something very intentional about gratitude. It doesn’t depend on what I have but on my noticing what’s good and recognizing that everything is gift.
Also, though, in my own experience, gratitude itself is a gift. Yes, I want to be deliberate about noticing the small things, but sometimes, without my intention, without my doing anything at all, a moment of gratitude just comes. The other night I was with one of my small groups, and all of a sudden, a deep sense of gratitude just came over me. Nothing in particular prompted that feeling; I was just deeply moved by the goodness each of the women in the group, by how we’re all just trying to do the best we can in life, and how blessed I felt to be present in that circle with them. Yes, some of that was my noticing, but most of it was simply a gift from God. Sometimes God just does that.
So, back to our friends whom Jesus healed of leprosy. I don’t think Jesus reprimands them. However, he does want something more from them. He wants them to notice the tremendous gift that he’s given them. He wants them all to be like the Samaritan – so overcome with joy and gratitude that he spontaneously responds out of that feeling – not out of obligation but out of delight. Jesus wants his gratitude, not for a pat on the head (good job with that healing, Jesus). No, he wants the Samaritan’s gratitude because it draws him into relationship with Jesus. In the beginning of the story, the people with leprosy are “at a distance,” and Jesus sends them even further away. However, one of them returns and draws near to Jesus. After that encounter, when Jesus tells him to go, he’s not sending him away again. Jesus is missioning him like he does his disciples, those with whom he’s in relationship.
Jesus wants that for us too; he wants us to allow our gratitude to draw us into relationship with God and with each other. Being grateful can deepen relationships. Being thankful helps me to notice all the ways that God is loving me, moment by moment. It helps me to notice the good in other people too, moving me away from judgement toward love, compassion, and acceptance.
Thank you, God, for the gift of gratitude. And thanks for helping me to notice it.
When other people express their gratitude to you and for you, how does that feel? How do you respond?
When you are intentional about gratitude, what do you notice about yourself, about the way you look at life, about the ways you interact with other people? What do you notice about your relationship with God?
For what are you most grateful?
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, dancing — and Theology on Tap!