We tend to have a good idea of what’s right and wrong, but we sometimes fall short in analyzing why certain things happen. Someone who snatches an old woman’s purse because he’s too lazy to work has committed a similar crime — and a similar sin — as a handicapped person who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, but their motivations for doing so are vastly different. I think it’s helpful to understand this. We can reinforce our hearts and minds that a sin (say, theft) is bad, but if we fail to understand the reasons behind wrong-doing, we leave ourselves open to sin entering our own hearts because we deal with the situation incorrectly.
If you suddenly see ants in your kitchen, are you seeing them because there are cracks in your walls and windows, or because you’re leaving out sweets, or because your child is bringing in chunks of anthills from outside? The result — ants — is something you don’t want in any case, but the way to solve the problem is different in each situation!
This came to mind as I reflected on today’s readings. Of particular note to me was the Gospel selection from Luke, detailing Jesus healing 10 lepers. All were cured, but only one — a Samaritan! — returned, glorifying God and thanking Christ.
Now, we recognize that the other nine lepers weren’t exemplary in their failure to give proper thanks. But I couldn’t help but wonder: What were their stories? They were at least open to Jesus and his message; they all proclaimed in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” So they were willing to proclaim Jesus as their Master. But – after Jesus sent them to the priests – they didn’t return.
I strongly suspect that their stories and motivations were not 100% uniform; I’ve discovered differences in outlooks and actions even among people I have a lot in common with.
Wondering why these lepers didn’t return — though they saw Christ in action firsthand — might prove interesting.
Here, then, is a thought exercise. It’s definitely not part of Sacred Scripture, but my own creative writing that ponders what may have been going through the mind of the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. And, for each one, I hope to provide some kind of insight for what this might teach us.
The Ignorant Leper — Perhaps one leper didn’t realize he had been cured. If he’d lived most of his life in suffering, he may not have even been able to consider what his life would be like with God’s blessing. How often are we blind to the blessings we receive? How often do we continue to live in pain, when our suffering has already been taken by God, or our sins are waiting to be absolved through the Sacrament of Confession?
The Late-Thinking Leper — Perhaps, like the previous healed person, one leper didn’t recognize right away that he was healed; but when he did recognize it, it seemed too late. How many people live their lives without consideration, only realizing how Christ has touched them long after the fact? Perhaps they would do well to “live in the moment,” and try to open their minds and hearts to God and truly reflect on their blessings and gifts.
The Quiet Leper — Maybe one leper recognized right away she had been healed, but was too shy or meek to offer gratitude. Are there those among us who have a hard time expressing ourselves with words? God still loves them! The prayers in our hearts and minds are heard by our Heavenly Father, and we should never let the stillness of our tongues stop us from proclaiming our gratitude. Such people may also wish to work on their skills, since a word of praise or acclamation can make all the difference for a friend or fellow believer.
The Assuming Leper — Maybe one leper didn’t feel like he needed to return, because (he believes) healing people is what God is supposed to do! Are there believers who assume too strongly what God “should” do, setting themselves up for disappointment when their prayers seem not to be answered? If we view our blessings as something God is “supposed” to do, we set ourselves up for a shock when we inevitably suffer setbacks. The most faith-filled seem to make their wants and needs known to the Lord, then sit back and let Heaven’s plans unfold as the Lord desires.
The Proud Leper — Perhaps one leper doesn’t believe in gratitude, because he’s too proud to thank those who have given to him. It can be helpful to recognize that one of the strongest things a proud person can do is to be humble, and true humility is pleasing to God. It’s never too late to express gratitude to God, for blessings current, past, or future.
The Quick Leper — What if one leper was so eager to do Jesus’ bidding, he got to the priests too soon? Sometimes, in our eagerness to do God’s will, we leap without thinking. While an eager heart is a wonderful thing, sometimes it can be best to make sure you fully know and understand what call you’re answering. You feel a call to join a ministry; what changes do you need to make to your schedule to make that happen? Your heart longs to join a partner’s in the Sacrament of Matrimony; is that lifelong commitment something you both are really ready for?
The Shame-Filled Leper — Perhaps one of the lepers ran off with the others, but wasn’t actually going to the priests, and was too ashamed to go back and thank Jesus. Even in lives of spiritual dryness or sin, God’s love and blessings can touch us. These moments can serve as beacons to bring us back to the fold, like Christ’s parable of the lost sheep. If you feel touched by goodness but don’t feel worthy or ready, perhaps talk about it with a priest. No matter what’s happened in your life, the Church is always waiting to welcome you home.
The Leper of Another Faith — Maybe one leper belonged to a different faith, and didn’t think it was appropriate to thank Jesus. While we recognize Jesus as the Light and the Way, we also recognize there are other faiths and traditions out there. God calls us to love strangers in all our midsts, regardless of their origins; many faithful Catholics were once members of other faiths, and it seems likely a majority of them were drawn to the Church by the love and compassion of its believers. Perhaps we can pray for such people, so they may one day recognize the truth of the blessings they have received.
The Leper in the Crowd — Finally, maybe the ninth leper looked at the crowd and assumed, “Hey, one of us is going to thank Jesus, so I don’t have to!” How many times in Church have we thought, “Oh, someone else will do it?” Whether donating money, or time, or a useful skill, many people — even those who view themselves as faithful — think that they don’t need to help, because there are so many other people and they won’t be missed. For those, it’s useful to prayerfully reflect that there are always opportunities to serve, and – in many cases – if you don’t participate, no one else will. Or the donations won’t feed as many, or reach as far, or sing with as loud a joyful voice. In all cases, if you’re tempted to think that someone else will do something, listen for the voice that may be the Spirit’s, asking: Why not you?
I can’t say for certain what motivated (or didn’t motivate) the nine lepers who didn’t return to thank Jesus. But some aspect of their possible stories might be our own. We have all, in our own way, failed at some point to return to the Lord as quickly and eagerly as we might . . . or perhaps not at all. Knowing that we did wrong is a vital first step, but understanding what happened can help us more effectively keep it from happening again. There are nine lepers who failed to return to Jesus, and they may each have a story. We all have our own stories . . . and our own opportunities, ultimately, to be as insightful and appreciative as that tenth leper.