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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

“… and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.” Lk 17:16

One of the great mystics of the Church, Meister Eckhart, once wrote:
“If the only prayer you ever pray is ‘Thank you,’ it’s enough.”

Luke evidently believed the same as shown in this powerful, multi-dimensional
Gospel story.  

First, it involves a terrible skin disease that was incurable in those days. People suffering from it were completely cut off from their families, their community, their employment, their religious worship. They were literally required to live outside their city gates, forced to become homeless, and left to become beggars.  

But Luke, the author of today’s Gospel, doesn’t just stop there.

As is often the case in his Gospel, the least likely person becomes the greatest example of faith: a woman, a child, a tax collector – all people who counted for nothing in their society.
Here the worthless one is a Samaritan, a foreigner – people thoroughly despised by the Jews and not allowed to worship in the Temple.

A Samaritan leper – a person doubly marginalized – is nevertheless on the list of those in Luke’s gospel who become the greatest examples of faith. The Samaritan leper’s story reminds us again that we just never know who will be a vehicle of God’s grace in our life.
Grace is always a surprise.   

And today’s story also involves not just one, but two such surprises by way of two healings.
The first is obvious … ten people were healed of the cursed leprosy.

The second healing, though, goes more than skin deep since the focus of the story is not so much on the healing that Jesus did, but on the response of those who were healed.
All ten had the faith to obey Jesus and start on their way to the priests of the Temple. But only one realized the depth of what Jesus had done … that not only his own life would improve, but that he would be able to return to his family and his community as well as his work.

This Samaritan leper was the only one who recognized that something more, something much deeper had happened here.  

What he saw in the healing work of Jesus was that the love of God was both present and powerful. What he saw was that God’s gracious mercy reached far beyond the boundaries of clean and unclean, healthy and unhealthy, even beyond Jew or Samaritan.
Only one of the ten who were healed grasped that he had been made whole on a far deeper level than he could ever have imagined.

And so, he “fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”

Luke urges each of us to do the same.

His Gospel highlights the primacy of gratitude in our lives.

We’ve all been healed from something. It may not have been as severe a challenge as leprosy, but perhaps it felt that way at times. Maybe it had to do with a divorce, or a cancer diagnosis, or the realization of a child struggling with addiction, or battles with depression, or violence, or any number of other intense hurts that needed healing.

Whatever it has been in our life, usually we have learned something treasurable about ourselves and about others.

Pain is a great teacher. We don’t see it that way while we’re experiencing it, but afterwards we can often find a lesson learned, a wisdom gained. Consequently, such suffering often makes us into a stronger person, a more compassionate and forgiving person, a more insightful person.

And a more grateful person.

I recently read a story about a family doing missionary work in a rural village in Togo in West Africa. Even though the family could not speak the native language, they reported that “Thank you” was easily understood. They said that “Regularly when we’d express our thanks for food offered, shelter provided, or the hospitality our African neighbors were so generous to provide, the response we’d get was, ‘Thanks be to God!’ Or, to put it in the vernacular, ‘Don’t thank me, God is the reason for this!’ Their faith in God was so strong, and though they had very little by U.S. standards, they knew that all they had was a gift from God.”

The Samaritan who fell to his knees in today’s Gospel also understood that. Everything is gift. Everything is grace.

Our response of faith is gratitude – gratitude for our life, our families, our friends, our children, and even our heartaches and our sins. All of them can teach us.
And, with faith, all of them can, like the Samaritan in today’s gospel, cause us to fall “at the feet of Jesus” and thank him.

That’s why Meister Eckhart could say:
“If the only prayer you ever pray is ‘Thank you,’ it’s enough.”

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli
Sister Rachel’s Quote of the Week

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