Gratitude is more than attitude!



one leper

We have just passed the season of Thanksgiving, and now we come to the Christmas season. It is (or should be) a time of joy and gratitude. In fact, so many carols speak of this joy and gratitude. it would be hard to list them all. So, it seems odd that in this season, we are told the story of the ten lepers. What does this have to do with the wonderful message of Christmas?

Let’s remember the story.  Jesus told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priest. This command was according to the Jewish law of that time, yet it was radical for Jesus to even acknowledge them. There was no disease more feared than leprosy. Not only did you suffer from disfigurement, you were completely cast out of society. No one ever acknowledged you or greeted you. We see this reality when it says in the story that the lepers stood “afar off.”

After they were healed, only one came back to Jesus, and he was a hated Samaritan. The Fathers say that this shows how the Jews rejected Jesus, but He would be received by the Gentiles. This is historically true and important for we Gentiles, yet what always puzzled me was why only one returned to thank Jesus. To be healed of such a thing would, I imagine, raise incredible feelings of relief and gratitude. Today, it would be like suffering from AIDS and then finding yourself healed in one day. Gratitude would hardly express what you would feel. So, only one returned? Incredible.

When we speak from a personal perspective, all of us are lepers. All of us have a disease that disfigures our hearts and minds to the point that we too are often unfit to keep company with others. Those of us who have come to Jesus find healing and restoration. What is our response? Have we just gone on with life, thankful for whatever blessing we have received, but living as we please; or, have we returned to express our gratitude to him by our obedience, actions, and deeds?

Jesus always appreciates the gratitude  that we feel towards him, but what is real gratitude? It is a  life that shows appreciation by what we do and say. Often, when Jesus healed someone, he would say “Go and sin no more lest a worse thing  happen to you.”  I don’t know what happened to the nine lepers. I hope they lived a good and happy life but I am sure that if they were capable of such ingratitude, it may not have gone well for them.

Despite all the arguments between denominations about what is necessary for salvation, Jesus said, “He who loves me keeps my commandments.”  It would take a long time to discuss the commandments of Christ and how we live them, but the point is that gratitude is  fundamentally an act of love, and not just of feeling. When we live in such a way that we are outside of his commandments,  we show our ingratitude for all that he has done for us. This is why we find the word “ingratitude” on the list of sins to be confessed. Ingratitude is not so much a feeling as a way of living. Forgive me for saying this but given the material, financial and social blessings that we Americans have received, we must be the most ungrateful people who ever lived.

So, healed lepers we may be, but do we express our gratitude? Will it be shown by the quality of our discipleship: or, having been healed of our disease, we leave to go live life in way that seems right to us, without much thought for the will of the one who heals us?

Well, like all things, its up to us. There is no greater witness than this: “once I was blind, but now I see.”  St. James would add that if we can truly see, then we can show the truth of our healing by our obedience to God. Show the priest, show the family, and show everyone you meet, more by what you do than by what you say, but say it as well.

All around us  are lepers who long to be healed.  We Orthodox claim that we are being healed. What do the other lepers of the world see in us?  Sadly,  the see many who talk about their healing, but who live like lepers. Frankly, the lepers of the world are not convince of our healing nor of the ability of the Lord to heal. Can you blame them?

It is my wish that you have a happy Christmas season and that the Nativity of Christ will  remind you again of the salvation that the Lord brings to us all. I know you will be grateful for family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, for our Church and for Holy Orthodoxy and even for the gifts given to you in love.  Wonderful. Even more, let this deep sense of gratitude that you feel remind you of what has been given to you. Remember the story of the one who turned back, and resolve to show your gratitude to God by what you do for him.

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