Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gratitude is a sign of consistency between one's exterior and interior life (Reflections on the Gospel, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lk. 17:11-19)

Getting the outside and the inside of things (and even persons) to be consistent with each other can be difficult at times. At other moments (and for certain kinds of persons perhaps), it can seem almost impossible. Think, for instance, of the Pharisees whom Jesus called "whitewashed tombs", for looking outwardly pious and holy while being inwardly filled with contempt for their fellow human beings.

Why did the nine lepers who were also healed by Jesus, fail to return to say ‘thank you’ for the miracle he had done for them? Were they that ungrateful? Were they forgetful? Or were they healed on the outside, but still unhealed on the inside?

One thing’s for sure, despite their bitter experience of leprosy, and despite the good deed Jesus had done to them, very little seems to have changed in these nine. Unlike the Samaritan who came back and gave thanks, they merely went back to their old ways, their old selves, and their old lives.

Perhaps their illness went much deeper than the leprosy they suffered on their skin. Their inability to show gratitude shows a deeper kind of illness—one that afflicted their heart and their soul. And it’s a disease they continued to suffer, and from which they will most likely never be cured. That’s why they never came back.

On the other hand, the Samaritan’s gratefulness was a sign that he wasn’t only healed of his external disease. He was also healed inwardly. For he had also found himself converted to Christ.

Today’s gospel reading isn’t just about gratitude, it’s also about why some persons are capable of thanks and why others are not. Why one returned to give thanks, and nine others didn’t. And the answer is simple. What had happened to the nine didn’t really sink deep enough as it did for the Samartian who returned.

The comparison between him and the ungrateful nine leads us to reflect on our own lives as well. It leads us to ask ourselves how deep into our own hearts and souls have our religious practices sunk. How much of what we do externally as Christians, transforms what we are—internally—as persons?

It challenges us, for instance, to ask ourselves how much of our behavior, our attitude, and our way of dealing with others is consistent with our faith and practice of our religion? Is our weekend religious observance consistent perhaps with our weekday secular life? Are the external manifestations of our faith consistent with our internal dispositions and intentions?

The bible tells us that God searches the mind and the heart. He looks not at externals, but at what truly lies within each human heart, and what he looks for most is consistency in a person’s faith and life.

The leper who came back was good on the outside because he had allowed himself to be transformed on the inside as well. His gratitude was a sign that internally and externally, he was well. There was a consistency to his life: mind and heart, body and soul.

Today the gospel puts before us a choice. Are we to be like the grateful Samaritan whose life was consistent, inside and out? Or are we going to join the other nine?

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)