October 9, 2013
The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
He was of another race, region and religion. But of a group of ten who were healed by Jesus, he was the only one who really knew how to live.
Jim Carrey has played The Grinch and even played God for a day in Bruce Almighty. He’s a comedian/actor who went from playing dumb to playing God. Not bad work, if you can get it.
The film Bruce Almighty shows what happens when an ambitious TV reporter is temporarily given God’s powers. Hilarity ensues, including scenes of canine toilet-training. However, in the end the movie delivers a serious message. It’s all about “not seeing your blessings,” as Jim Carrey put it in an article in USA Today a few years ago, a problem that is “a common thing for a lot of people” he continues.
Although Carrey is no longer almighty, he still knows the power of counting his blessings. In fact, he reports that he is in the habit of making lists of things that he’s grateful for. In words you don’t expect from an A-list Hollywood actor, he says, “I would challenge anybody in their darkest moment to write what they’re grateful for, even stupid little things like the green grass that made them feel good, the friendly conversation they had with somebody on an elevator. You start to realize how rich you are.”
Count your blessings. Just as the song goes that Bing Crosby made famous many eons ago, instead of counting sheep, count your blessings. Remember to be grateful. Realize how rich you are. Take the time, especially at Thanksgiving, to give thanks for everything you have been given. Jim Carrey does it. Bing Crosby says he did in his hit song.
And so does the tenth leper that we shall call “Mr. Ten.”
In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus is on a road trip, moving between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. As he enters a village, ten lepers approach him and call out from a distance, raising their voices in unison, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They are desperate for healing, but as unclean people they don’t dare rush up to Jesus. They know that they are supposed to keep their distance, and live outside the community. That was the Judaic law.
Jesus sees them and feels a desire to be merciful toward them. Then he gives them a rather unusual command: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” To us, these words sound odd, but in that time period, a leper who was fortunate enough to be healed had to show himself to a priest. Only a priest could certify that a person was truly clean and able to return to the community.
As the lepers make their way toward the priests, they are miraculously cleansed, and one of them, Mr. Ten, turns on his heels and races back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him incessantly.
Only one gives thanks. One out of ten. “Were not ten made clean?” asks Jesus, sounding a bit perturbed. Can you just imagine the emoji Jesus uses in His text message?! “But the other nine, where are they?” Jesus asks.
Only one takes the time to count his blessings. Only one bothers to come back to Jesus and say thanks.
A 10 percent return. That’s pretty pathetic. But are we doing any better today?
Keep in mind that the other nine lepers did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They were obedient. They followed instructions. They were doing the will of God. Can’t fault them for that.
But gratitude and thanksgiving move us beyond the standard or the acceptable and even the ordinary. A gracious attitude and lifestyle makes one extraordinary, unusual, blessed, a cut above the rest.
New research is showing that people who count their blessings may find themselves sleeping better, exercising more and caring more about others. People who remind themselves of the things they are grateful for — people who count their blessings one by one, consciously, every day — show significant improvements in mental health, and even in some aspects of physical health. And these results appear to be true whether you are a healthy college student or an older person with an incurable disease, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Here’s how the study was conducted: College students were asked to fill out a weekly report of five things for which they were grateful. They listed such things as “the generosity of friends” or their favorite musical artist. Another group, made up of adults with incurable diseases such as polio, were asked to write down a list of things that made them thankful.
Comparable groups were asked to count their hassles, instead of their blessings. They listed aggravations such as “hard to find parking” and “finances depleting quickly.” Instead of focusing on how rich they were, members of these groups focused on their poverty.
The results were predictable. In the end, the grateful groups felt better about their lives and more optimistic about their prospects. The thankful college students exercised more, and the chronically ill adults who focused on blessings reported sleeping longer and waking up refreshed. The members of the grateful groups were also nicer to neighbors and more willing to help people with personal problems, leading the researchers to conclude that gratitude can serve as a “moral motivator.”
Being thankful is good for your physical, mental and moral health. It doesn’t seem to matter what you are grateful for, as long as you count your blessings. You can be appreciative of green grass, or generous friends, or loving family members, or pleasant elevator conversations. You can even thank God for the Justin Bieber or Beyonce. (Okay, so maybe some of us would choose someone else, but you get the idea.)
In the story of the ten lepers, the biggest surprise is that Mr. Ten is revealed to be a Samaritan. This comes as a shock to most of Jesus’ followers, because they see Samaritans as low-life losers, second-class citizens, members of the wrong race, region and religion. The Samaritan is not a respectable member of the community at all. Racial and religious prejudices have been around since the beginning of mankind practically.
This less desirable is the only one to count his blessings. And that, according to Jesus, makes all the difference. It showed Jesus that while the others had experienced the healing of their bodies, this fellow had found healing in his soul. Everyone is equal in God’s eyes.
“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” asks Jesus. Then he says to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus slams the nine perfectly respectable lepers who went on their way without so much as a thank-you, the nine ungrateful lepers who felt that they somehow deserved to be healed, the nine self-centered lepers who had so much to do that they couldn’t take a nanosecond to return to Jesus and express their gratitude.
“Your faith has made you well,” says Jesus to Mr. Ten. Jesus gives him a fist bump and a high five not so much for the faith that asked for healing, but for the faith that returned to give thanks. After all, it’s a grateful faith — not a gimme faith — that saves us.
Mr. Ten wanted some soul-healing, and it’s no doubt what most of us need today, and we’re not going to find it until we’re able to count our blessings.
So, what have you forgotten to say “thank-you” for today?
Our challenge is to count our blessings — large and small, significant and stupid — and to be grateful to the One who is the source of every good and gracious gift. We don’t deserve a thing, whether it’s green grass or mischievous kids or caring co-workers or healthy hearts, so our attitude toward each day should be absolutely thick with thanksgiving.
A Barna Research poll revealed that despite international tensions and domestic political and racial problems, nine out of ten Americans are happy with their lives and say that their religious faith has a lot to do with it. Nine out of ten Americans are happy, and they credit their faith. That’s an impressive statistic, but does it mean that nine out of ten regularly turn to God and give thanks? Probably not. We may feel good about our lives, but we don’t always give credit where credit is due. I openly admit that I literally have to force myself each day to find things to be grateful for. We all know how easy it is to find things we are unhappy about. For many of us, it is our nature. A nature that takes time and the grace of God to change.
If we can remember to be grateful, we’ll find ourselves even healthier in body, mind and spirit. We’ll feel better about our lives, more optimistic about our prospects and more helpful toward people around us. After all, Jesus proclaimed it, and modern research confirms it — a grateful faith can make us well.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father. As humans, we sometimes tend to view the world with negative eyes and fail to see the good and dynamic next to them. Help us to see the world in a brighter light; help us to give thanks for the many other aspects of our lives each day that we tend to miss. We can always find that which is good in the world even amongst the bad.
Help us to understand that even as we need to give You thanks for the many good things in life, You do not actually expect us to forget the bad; fore sometimes it is within this “bad” that we are inspired to do good. Help us to know that we must seek Your help and guidance in relieving ourselves of the bad. We must not go from one extreme to the other and ignore the bad any more than we currently seeming miss the good. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.