“Thankfulness and the Ten Lepers” 10/13/2019 Lk 17:11-19
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Ten lepers are healed, but only one returns to give thanks and praise to God. Our Gospel today encourages us to have a prayer-life that is balanced and well-rounded. There is the memorable acronym Acts, A.C.T.S, that describes the well-rounded prayer-life. “A” for adoration, “C” for confession, “T” for thanksgiving, and “S” for supplication. Supplication is when we ask for things.
So Acts. We adore God for who he is. We confess our sins to him. We thank him for what he has given us. And we make supplication for what we need. Acts. We should do all of these. If one of these tend to be missing in our prayer-life, we know what we can improve on.
These four types of prayer can be found in the Gospel today—in a different order, but they’re there. We first encounter the prayer of confession. This is the least obvious of the four, so bear with me. In the beginning of our scene, ten lepers meet Jesus, but, the text says, they stood at a distance from him. They stand at a distance for health reasons, certainly, but it is also a gesture of unworthiness.
In just the next chapter of Luke the same phrase is used in the story about the two men praying in the temple: the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The tax collector knows he’s a sinner and the text says of him that while praying, “he stood off at a distance.” We may think of turning away in unworthiness because of sin. It seems this same sort of confession of sin is at play today when the lepers stand at a distance from Jesus. They are also lepers spiritually and not just physically.
The lepers then make supplication, our next type of prayer. They cry out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” They confessed that they are unworthy, but now they ask Jesus for mercy. They make supplication and ask to be healed.
Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests, and they are healed on the way. The text then alludes to adoration. It says, “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus.” This is the prayer of adoration. This healed leper glorifies God and falls at the feet of Jesus in worship and adoration.
This brings us to the remaining type of prayer, thanksgiving. The Gospel says that as the healed man falls at Jesus’ feet, he thanked him. Jesus responds, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Jesus praises the Samaritan for giving thanks.
So those are the 4 types of prayer of our acronym Acts: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Since Jesus singles out thanksgiving here, let’s give it a closer look.
One way we can judge how well we’re doing in the spiritual life is by seeing how thankful we are. If we find ourselves not giving thanks too often, it may be an indication that we have a lot of growing to do, or at least we need to get out of a rut. Why is that? Why is our degree of thankfulness a good gauge for measuring how we’re doing spiritually?
I’ll give just two reasons. First, our degree of thankfulness reveals our focus. Are we more focused on ourselves or God? If we approach God like we approach an ATM machine—just trying to get more and more—we won’t be very thankful. We’ll be more focused on ourselves and getting what we want. Yet if our focus is on God and his goodness, we more readily notice the good things that he has given us. We realize we don’t deserve it, yet God has given us so much. So we are thankful.
Second. Being thankful about what God has done in the past, helps increase our trust in God in the present. If we’re always worried about the future—if we find that we don’t trust God much—,it may help to think about the many ways that God has already provided for us in the past.
He has already provided so much for us, so we can trust he’ll do the same in the future. The God who has proven himself faithful in the past, is the same God we trust to provide for us now and in the future. Being thankful helps convince us of this, so we can face challenging times with greater trust and joy.
St Bernard of Clairvaux develops these two ideas in Sermon 11 on the Song of Songs, and we’ll conclude with a reflection on his thoughts. Bernard insists that the prayer of thanksgiving “lightens the burdens of this present life,” and it gives us “breathing space.”
In other words, if we feel as if we’re oppressed by many difficulties and cramped in by various concerns, the prayer of thanksgiving refreshes us because it lifts us up and refocuses us on God. It takes us beyond the pressing concern at hand to the wider perspective of God and what he can do for us. It puts us in a certain attitude, where we are immersed in God’s goodness.
St Bernard says, “my advice to you, my friends, is to turn aside occasionally from troubled and anxious pondering on the paths you may be treading, and to travel on smoother ways, where the gifts of God are serenely savored, so that the thought of him may give you breathing space.” For St Bernard, giving thanks to God lightens our load and fills us with joy because it focuses us on God and his gifts. In this way, he says, it’s a foretaste of the joy of heaven.
One thing that we are always to give thanks for, according to St Bernard, is Christ’s work of redemption. By it we are freed from our sins and reconciled with God. And this saving work is truly made present at every Eucharist, as it will be in just a few moments on this altar. As we receive grace from God, we also give thanks. Today as we perform our ACTS, namely adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, we overflow with gratitude. With St Bernard we exclaim, “Who can recount all the Lord’s triumphs? Who can praise him enough?”