We are all very familiar with the Parable of the “Ten Lepers” and we know that as only one leper who was cured returned to Jesus to show his gratitude, all the other nine even though they were also cured did not. We are all clearly reminded in today’s Gospel about our need to be grateful persons.
While today’s Gospel message is obvious, we cannot presume that we are living the virtue of “gratitude” in our daily living. We also cannot assume that we have been or are living the virtue of “gratitude” How much gratitude do we have and show in the way we live daily? There is a difference, between “courtesy” that thank people spontaneously and the virtue of “gratitude” that Jesus proclaimed to us through the Gospel that we just heard.
I am sure many of you if not all you have experienced what I experienced as a child. Whenever we received something from someone, my mom would remark, “What do you say?” As a child we would then have to say respectfully, “Thank you, so and so.”
I also grew up seeing how when my neighbours gave my family something like a baked cake, upon returning the washed dish, my mom would always put some fruits, even if it was simply a pair of apples or oranges on the plate. When I asked mom, why? She explained that we should never return our friends an empty plate. In other words, good deeds must always be both ways, and we should never accept anything without reciprocating the good deed.
While these may be simple gestures of expressing our gratitude that we learnt as a child, it is good to ask ourselves, “Have such lessons that we learnt from our good parents grown and matured into deeper Gospel values” or have our hectic life styles dehumanised us?
We have all read about the 51 year old saleswoman, Noriza Mansor who won the Straits Times, Singaporean of the Year 2015 award. There was an incident where Mr Tan Soy Yong, a 76 year old man soiled himself in the supermarket while he was shopping with his wheeled chair bound wife. The stench was so strong that the shoppers all recoiled from him and kept their distance.
However, when Madam Noriza saw what had happened, she immediately bought a new pair of shorts; went up and knelt at uncle Tan’s feet and wiped the mess off his legs. Mr Tan was so deeply moved that he started crying. Madam Noriza said, “Uncle, don’t cry, if I don’t clean you, you would not be able to go home in this situation.” Her selfless act moved a bystander to tears.
Madam Noriza’s compassion for Mr Tan and his wife did not end there. Although she works a 12 hour day without any off days, she would try to find time to visit them, clean their home and care for them in their three room flat.
In an interview, Madam Noriza added, “I hope Singaporeans would not turn down those who are poor and are in need of help because these people do not wish to be in this type of situation; and they really need our help.”
Immediately after Madam Noriza received her award, she rushed off after the ceremony to visit uncle Tan and his wife. Along the way, she stopped at the hawker centre to buy them some fried rice and coffee. She then found out that uncle Tan was admitted to Tan Tock Seng hospital. When she arrived, she found uncle Tan lying in bed with a tube up his nose. He did not respond to her attempts to speak to him, but stared blankly into space. Madam Noriza said, “Uncle Tan has lost so much weight; seeing him like this makes me want to cry.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us note that Madam Noriza was not just expressing her token gestures of courtesy towards uncle Tan and his wife. She has many challenges of her own: she is a single mother who has to work a 12 hour day without off days to bring up her five children. To transcend the repulsive mess and smell that uncle Tan made while others recoiled requires a big heart that is filled with gratitude towards life and people.
For this, Madam Noriza shares that when she was 21 years old, she lost her own parents. She is now able to treat uncle Tan and his wife like her own father and mother. If we reflect on Madam Noriza life further, in all probability she must have had parents who showered her with a depth of love that made her so grateful to them and so loving to God. And because of such deep loving experiences, she was then able to reach out to uncle Tan and his wife, regardless of their race, language, colour and culture, and in spite of the fact that they were complete strangers to her before the incident. And in all of these, she says profoundly from her heart that God must have sent uncle Tan and his wife into her life.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, while God is present everywhere, we can say that He is intimately present in a heart that is filled with gratitude. Indeed, a grateful heart is a heart that is always selfless, life giving and ever loving, like that of Madam Noriza and the grateful leper who returned to thank Jesus for curing him.
In today’s Gospel, the cured leper was able to see the gift of the Giver, and the Compassionate Love that he received from Jesus. As a Samaritan, even as he was viewed as an enemy by the Jews, he was able to transcend his cultural prejudices and allow his heart that was filled with gratitude to look for Jesus to thank Him.
What about us? In the busyness of our daily living, do we like the Samaritan realise that we have to transcend all our concerns and challenges of our lives and remind ourselves that if not for all the abundant blessings that God has given to us, we would not be where we are today, we would not even have a life to lead in this world and a faith that offers us eternal life.
And so, when we next find ourselves complaining about things like the food was not delicious enough, remember the hundreds of millions of people who die of starvation. When we get upset with the less perfect looks that we have, remember to thank God for the good heart and faith that we have that will lead us to eternal life. When we get angry with God because of the accident that broke our leg, remember that if not for God’s protection you would have lost our life. When we are angry with ourselves for committing the same sins over and over again, remember that most of the saints were also sinners like us, or greater sinners than us, like St Paul the Evangelist, St Augustine of Hippo, St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola and others, but because they were willing to fight fiercely the battles of their inner temptations, and swallow their pride and ego, they were eventually with God’s graces, able to win the battle at a great price. So, nothing is impossible for us to overcome, with God’s help and strength within us.
And so, as we conclude, let us remind ourselves that there are literally uncountable people we need to thank in our lives, beginning with our parents who worked selflessly, and for many suffered grievously and worried sleeplessly to bring us up, and gave us their very best in life. Indeed, the list of people we need to thank is endless, but in today’s Gospel Jesus is challenging you and I to be more grateful to the people we know, work and live with – every person deserves our respect and caring love, even though they are strangers and challenging to reach out to, as Madam Noriza has shown us.
Most important of all let us be totally grateful to God our Father who created the beautiful earth and universe, and all of us in His Image and Likeness, which is Love. Let us thank Jesus daily for Saving us from our sins, and opening the gates of heaven that we may enter and live in His eternal Peace, Joy and Glory. And let us be more deeply in tuned with the Holy Spirit who is constantly guiding, enlightening and empowering us to live the Gospel daily.
And, in all of these, let us always live with deep gratitude in our hearts regardless of the challenges we face in life. This is so that /with deep gratitude to God our Father, Son and Spirit, we may then be the grateful leper of today’s Gospel. And may our daily witness inspire the other ungrateful lepers who live in our midst daily, so that /the Gospel be lived and God be praised, loved and served in our daily living.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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