Homily – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2010 – Why Be Thankful?
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Homily audio is here.
Why Be Thankful?
Having “an attitude of gratitude” is polite. When someone opens a door for us, we’re expected to say “thank you”; when we do something nice for someone and they don’t thank us, we get a little huffy. For most of us, this is an attitude our mothers helped us learn: It’s polite to say Thank You.
But, at the end of the day, why does it matter? The door opened; we didn’t hit it on the way in. What difference does it really make if we thank the person who opened it for us or not? Other than making the opener feel bad, how does not thanking that person make any difference at all?
The answer to that question is obvious. Not acknowledging someone who does something nice for us is rude. And since we don’t want to be rude, we thank people who help us.
But…what about God? How’s our “attitude of gratitude with Him? And what does our attitude say about us, and about what’s most important to us?
Naaman (Nay-uh-mun) understood what it meant to be thankful. Naaman was a pagan, the commander of the armies of the King of Aram. But he had a problem: Naaman had contracted leprosy, which was incurable and contagious. Naaman couldn’t keep his job and his status without help. His wife’s servant girl, a captured Israelite, told him to go to Samaria to see Elisha. After resisting what Elisha instructed him to do, Naaman finally obeyed…and what happened? He was cured.
Now flip to the Gospel. The ten lepers ask Jesus to heal them. He tells them to go see the priests, and on the way, they were healed! No drama…no flashing lights and thunderclaps. The Gospel says, “As they were going they were cleansed.”
These two events have a lot in common. They were told to do something…they did it…and they were cured of their leprosy! Dive deeper, and again, there are more things in common: Naaman’s cure convinced Him that God alone was the one he should worship. The Samaritan leper came back to Jesus, praising God, and thanked Jesus for curing him.
Now…look even deeper. Naaman had a conversion experience. He would worship the God of Israel alone. And what did Jesus tell the Samaritan leper? “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Your faith…has saved you. The Samaritan’s belief in Jesus…had earned him eternal life!
For our part, we buy into this. We know God can and does work miracles all the time. The lives of the saints are full of them; everyone knows at least one story of someone who was cured, or someone who was saved from death, through circumstances that can only be described as miraculous.
But it strikes me that our technology is advancing so quickly these days that things that were unimaginable even ten years ago have become commonplace! So many “miraculous” things happen every day that we almost want to sue someone when we don’t get that miraculous outcome!
And where does that leave us? It leaves us, as a culture, with a loss of the sense of the miraculous. It leaves us with broad swaths of people, even people of faith, who end up losing the understanding that God acts in our world. It leaves us, some of us, at least, with an inability to really see what’s going on around us. And it leaves us without the “attitude of gratitude” that really is the point of all of this!
What do I mean? Here’s what I mean.
It’s miraculous when a heart surgeon can take a beating heart out of one person and put it into another one. But without the right attitude, the surgeon and the patient can think it’s all about the surgeon. But who gave the surgeon the gifts to perform the operation? God. Who created our bodies so fearfully and wonderfully that it’s even possible to transplant a heart? God.
And this takes us back to the stories from today’s readings. Ten lepers were cleansed. Only one came back to thank Jesus and praise God. Did the other nine become unhealed? No! But the one who returned got the greater good: “…go, your faith has saved you”.
The “point of all of this” is that the Samaritan leper showed one quality the other nine lacked: gratitude. And because of that, he was earned eternal life. With us, God isn’t going to punish us because of our lack of faith, as Paul said in his letter to Timothy, “If we are unfaithful, [Jesus] remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” The miracles that God makes possible will still occur. But without that “attitude of gratitude”, we might just miss the most important thing: eternity with God!
How’s our attitude of gratitude”? Do we recognize the miraculous in the every day? Do we acknowledge the faithfulness of God in our lives, in the gifts great and small that come to us?
Or is it all about us, and how good we are, how hard we’ve worked, and how much we have achieved on our own merit?
God will be faithful no matter what. And God’s gifts will be given whether we acknowledge Him or not, because “He remains faithful” as Paul said.
But how much are we missing, if we don’t recognize God’s hand in our lives? How much are we losing, if we can’t see the miracles in our lives…as miraculous?
We get huffy when we open a door for someone, and they ignore us. Do we do any better by God when we fail to acknowledge His work in our lives?
God is good, all the time. Shouldn’t we let Him know that we know that?