The Ten Lepers Who Were Cleansed - Giving Thanks For Everything
The Gospel reading for this Sunday tells us of the ten lepers who stood afar off – ostracized by their disease and utterly cast off from society. As Jesus was passing by they lifted up their voices and shouted: ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’
Our Lord Jesus Christ heard their cries and had compassion upon them. He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was, that as they went, they were cleansed from their horrible infirmity.
The nine who were healed, continued straight away to the priests so that they could be declared clean and re-enter the community as soon as possible. However, one of them, who was a despised Samaritan, upon seeing his cure, turned back and ran to Jesus and fell down at His feet, giving Him thanks.
Jesus answered and said: ‘Were there not ten that were cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him: ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’
Brothers and sisters in Christ… today’s Gospel reading is all about thanksgiving and gratitude to God.
If we can stop for a moment and reflect and begin to grasp all the mercies and blessings that God bestows upon us, we will be overwhelmed! Every breath we take, every beat of our heart, every moment of our life is a gift from God. If only we had this awareness, this humble and thankful heart of gratitude to God… our lives and our perception of things would be illumined with Grace and Love and Joy.
Life is filled with ups and downs, little triumphs and tragedies which, if we are not careful, can lead us on an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. If our interior disposition is constantly subject to the circumstances of our life, we are in for quite a ride. Yet, the Apostle Paul counsels us to ‘Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’
We are called to give thanks in all circumstances… both the good and the bad. It is certainly easier to cultivate a sense of gratitude when things are going well, when we are surrounded by the love of our friends and family, when we can enjoy health and peace and prosperity. In such times, we must indeed raise our hearts and voices in thanksgiving to God for His great mercy and bounties.
But what about when things are going poorly… when we are tormented by enemies, when disease and conflict and poverty knock upon our door? How can we give thanks in such circumstances? This is what the Apostle Paul is calling us to do… but how can we be sincere in thanking God when everything is falling apart all around us?
I’d like to share with you one of the marvelous ‘Poems By The Lake’ of St Nikolai Velimirovich. This collection of prayers is an astounding testament to the depth of soul of this modern saint. These are the words of a man who was imprisoned in Dachau Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany. These are the words of a man who knows what it means to suffer at the hands of his enemies…
He writes: ‘Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.’
And then skipping to the final lines, he writes: ‘Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.’
This understanding of suffering and of all the circumstances of our earthly life can only come from an eternal perspective, from a perspective which sees all those ups and downs, those triumphs and tragedies of this earthly life as preparation for eternity, as challenges toward the development of our soul, and as instruction in learning where to place our hope and our trust… As St Nikolai confesses… it is our enemies who draw us closer to God. It is the difficult and dangerous circumstances of life which send us to the shelter under the wings of our Heavenly Comforter.
The very purpose of our lives is to draw closer to God, to unite ourselves to Christ. If, in fact, it is the hardships and storms of life that tend to move us in this direction, then we do indeed have cause to be grateful to God for everything!
Let us give thanks to God! We can truly be grateful to Him for everything if we maintain that heavenly perspective of the purpose of our life.
I think it is fitting that today – the eve of the eve of our parish feast day – we should stop for a moment and reflect upon the great mercies and blessings which God has bestowed upon us… both as a community and as individuals.
May God bless each and every one gathered here at our beloved parish of St Herman of Alaska and may we each work to cultivate that heart of gratitude to God for all things!