In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
God is constantly pouring out His benefactions upon us; as the Psalmist says, Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonders which thou hast done: in thy thoughts, there is none like unto thee: I declared and spake—‘They are too many to be numbered’ (Ps. 39:6 LXX). How many of them do we even take note of? How many move us to glorify God? For how many of them, great or small, do we render thanks unto the Creator?
Certainly, the lepers in today’s Gospel had ample reason to be grateful. Leprosy was a horrific disease that disfigured the skin and covered the body with painful sores. This physical suffering was only made heavier by the shame of being ritually unclean and cast out from the society of men—for the Law of Moses stipulated that lepers be put out of the camp.
Accordingly, we find these lepers standing far off from the village as Jesus was entering in. While He passed by, the lepers called to Him for healing, showing their faith in Christ—though faith that was by no means perfect, for they called Him ‘Master’ and not yet ‘Lord.’
Christ then commands them to go and show themselves to the priests. The public confirmation of a leper’s healing, sealed by the offering of the prescribed sacrifice, was required by the Mosaic Law for a leper’s readmittance into normal society.
Here again, the lepers show their faith by obeying Christ’s command, going to the priests even before they had been healed. If they had no faith at all in Christ’s word, they could easily have said, ‘How can he tell us to fulfil the Law’s injunctions without having first healed us? How can we present ourselves to the priests while we are still unclean?’ However, they did not doubt or despair; they went with faith, and their faith was rewarded—And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed, (Lk. 17:14).
But now that they had obtained their request from the Lord, only one of them thought to turn back to his Benefactor, and give thanks. And so only this one, a Samaritan—that race so hated by the Jews—was granted to hear from the Lord’s own lips, ‘thy faith hath made thee whole’ (Lk. 17:19). What did the faith of the other nine profit them, when it was so soon followed by ingratitude? Their bodies were indeed healed, but their faith remained imperfect and their souls did not bear the saving fruit thanksgiving.
Yet there is another, less obvious sin that preceded the ingratitude of the nine—forgetfulness.
We may not often consider this even to be a sin, but as we read in Abba Mark the Monk, it is impossible to live a God-pleasing life if we do not overcome it. He tells us that the very foundation of the life according to God is ‘with indelible memory … [to] recollect for yourself all the things that God, in his love for mankind, has done for you, and all the special dispensations and benefits he is giving you now for the salvation of your soul.’
Abba Mark goes on to describe this so beautifully that I can do nothing better than to quote his own words at length:
When the soul recalls the benefits it has received from birth from God because of his love for mankind—either how it has often been rescued from so many dangers or how, despite falling into so many evil ways and often willingly slipping into sin, it was not rightfully handed over to deceiving spirits for destruction and death, but instead the long-suffering and benevolent Master, overlooking its sins, protected it, awaiting its conversion—it recalls that, when it willingly enslaved itself to its enemies and to evil spirits on account of the passions, God continually sustained it, watching over the soul and providing for it in every way. In the end, God guided it by a clear sign onto the way of salvation, and implanted in the heart a love for the ascetic life, and empowered it with joy to renounce the world and all its deceitful fleshly pleasures, and adorned it with the angelic habit of the monastic order, and provided for it to be readily received by holy fathers into the organized community of a brotherhood.
Who, having a good conscience, and keeping these things in mind, will not at all times persevere with a contrite heart, since he has so many pledges from the benefits he has received in the past, although he himself has earlier done nothing good? Once he has deliberated on the following, does he not at all times assume a firm faith? “Although I have done nothing good, but have instead committed numerous sins before God, caught in the grip of impurity of flesh and many other evils, ‘he has not dealt with me according to mine iniquities, neither has he rewarded me according to my sins’ (Ps. 102:10); instead, he has dispensed all these gifts and graces for my salvation!
If, then, I give myself over to serving him completely from now on by living a completely pure way of life and by practicing the virtues, how many good and spiritual gifts will he bestow, guiding me and empowering me for every good work?” Thus the person who preserves such a thought as this at all times, and does not forget the many great benefits that God has given him, importunes himself and directs and urges himself on to every good ascetic practice of virtue and to every work of righteousness, always eager, always ready, to do the will of God.
Let us then strive to heed this counsel of Abba Mark, and move ourselves to emulate the gratitude of the Samaritan leper, ever mindful of the great and innumerable blessings of God—to whom be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.