Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, October 10, 2010:

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm: Psalm 111

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 66:1-11 (Psalm 66:1-12 NRSV)

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

It's always interesting to see what other theologians focus upon for each week's Gospel. This week, I'm surprised by how many scholars focus on the fact that Jesus sent the lepers off to the priests, and they were cured while they were on their way. Why didn't Jesus just heal them there? Did it have something to do with purity laws? Did it have something to do with the larger society needing to be part of receiving the previously outcast? Was Jesus trying to include the religious institutions of his day in his vision for the world? Apparently, these types of questions fascinate many theologians.

These questions don't interest me as much as what happens later. Ten lepers leave and only one comes back to say thank you. And the one who comes back to say thank you is a Samaritan, one of the lowest of the low in Jesus' society--the one you wouldn't expect to come back and say thank you. Notice that the 9 lepers weren't punished for their ingratitude. But Jesus does notice their ingratitude.

We've spent a lot of time wrestling with texts which offer us guidelines for discipleship which may seem close to impossible for modern people to follow: give away our wealth? Surely Jesus didn't mean that.

Today's Gospel gives us a task which should be easier. We need to practice gratitude. It seems like it should be such an easy thing, but some people find it easier to give away their money than to be grateful. We focus on the prayers that we perceive of as unanswered. We find ourselves obsessing over people who seem to receive better blessings than we do. We nurse our disappointments, our hurt, our anger. We are in spiritually dangerous territory when we do this.

If you can pray no other prayer, get into the habit of saying thank you. If you think you have nothing over which you'd like to offer thanks, think again. Do your body parts work as well as can be expected? Even if you're not in the best health, you can probably focus on something that's a blessing. I'd like to be naturally willow thin, but I never have been. I could spend a lot of time making myself miserable over that, or I could focus on my genetic predisposition for low blood cholesterol and low blood pressure and say a prayer of thanks. Once I saw Arthur Ashe on the Phil Donahue show, where he had appeared to talk about his recent diagnosis: he had AIDS. But he seemed so cheerful, and when asked about that, he said that he focused on what his body could do. He grinned and said, "I've never had a cavity." If only more of us could follow his large-spirited lead.

When you think about what's lacking in your life, you might focus on your lack of funds. But compared to the rest of the world, you've extremely wealthy. Want to know just how wealthy? Go to to see. Even if you're in the lower tiers of poverty in the US, you're still fairly well off compared to the rest of the world. You're still likely to have safe water and electricity and some sort of roof over your head--even a TV!

My friend Sue used to do a type of gratitude exercise with her children. When they saw a magnificent sunset or a field of flowers or a tree ablaze in autumnal leaves, they’d yell, “Great show God!” It could be a bit startling if you were the one driving the car and not expecting this outburst. Yet the spirit was infectious. Even today, when I see something beautiful in nature, I murmur, “Great show, God.”

The beautiful thing about cultivating a garden of gratitude is that it opens our hearts in a unique way. Being grateful can lead to those other spiritual disciplines that seem so hard taken out of context. We’re saying “Thank you” more often, which puts us in a space where prayer comes more naturally. We are aware of all the blessings that we have and we’re more inclined to share. Our hearts and our brains and our hands move in unison to work with God to create the kind of reality that God wants for each of us to experience.

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