My younger brother Ted may be the nicest person in the world. But, I want to tell you about the time I made him angry. I’ve told you all before how when I was in college, I got a big student loan and spent a semester studying in Belgium where my college had a small program.
One day Ted and I, along with some other students, took a day trip to Cologne Germany. We were looking for a place to eat lunch, and there was a great looking sidewalk café in the square where we began our search. But, I thought we should see what else was close and so we started walking across town.
About an hour later we found this little place that was built to imitate a 1950s era american diner and the group was ready to eat. But I was not. I said, “Guys, we can eat American food the rest of our lives, let’s go back to that café we saw in the town square.” This is the moment when my little brother Ted, who when growing up we all called Teddy, and when he was really small “Teddy Bear.” This is the moment when my brother who never said an angry or mean word to anyone - this is the moment when he lost it.
He said, “Tom, I was starving when we left that first café. We have been walking for an hour. My feet hurt. I missed breakfast. We are going to eat here and you are going to like it!”
I was shocked. My brother had never stood up to me like that. So, we ate at the little American Diner in Cologne Germany and it was awesome! At this diner they had spaghetti Ice Cream. They took gelato and squeezed it through a noodle press, then they put cherry sauce on it that looked like marinara and white chocolate shavings that looked like parmesan cheese.
We ended up talking about this ice cream the rest of the trip. Also, how Ted had suddenly taken over and asserted himself and how we accidently discovered spaghetti ice cream.
It’s a personal illustration, but it makes the point that we learn many good lessons on the way to something else. In fact, I would say that the most important lessons we learn or wisdom we gain is simply the by-product of our journey.
The best lessons I have learned, the ones I am most grateful for were full of pain. These lessons cost me the most and I wouldn’t wish those journeys on anyone, but at the same time I would never trade them. In fact, I am full of gratitude because of them.
In our gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day we hear a story of unlikely gratitude.
While Jesus is traveling through Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem, a group of ten lepers draws near, but they are also careful not to get too close. They drew near out of their need; they keep their distance because of their disease. However, in the presence of Jesus, the lepers do not cry out “Unclean, unclean,” as the law requires. Rather, they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Out of the pain of their disease and the depths of their isolation, they cry out to the Lord to have mercy on them. And he does. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priest as the law requires when someone is healed. And as they go, they are made clean. Restored to health and restored to the community.
No more wearing torn clothes.
No more long hair hanging over their blotched and blemished faces.
No more yelling out “Unclean, unclean” from covered lips.
No more dwelling alone outside the camp.
On the way to see the priests. One of the lepers who was healed suddenly turns back and praises Jesus in gratitude. He falls on his face at Jesus’ feet and he thanks him. And the one who praises God and gives thanks is a Samaritan. He was not only physically ill, but also a social outcast and a religious heretic. The one isolated not only by illness, but also by his culture and religion turns back and gives praise to a Jewish rabbi.
Where does gratitude like this come from? The answer is humility.
For some gratitude seems more like a vice than a virtue. For some gratitude expresses neediness and dependence - many would rather not acknowledge it - or if they do acknowledge it they resent it. In the return of the Samaritan leper, we have a story that is not just about physical healing. It is a story about the healing of all those things that keep us separated from each other and exiled from God.
Fr. Tom +