There are aspects of my fairly traditional upbringing for which I am grateful to my parents and to God. As a child I was always taught to say please and thank you. For politically correct egalitarians, such words speak of a slave morality, and unspeakable submission of an inferior to a superior. For those who think like this the good things in life are a right, not a gift. To be deprived of such things, or to be considered dependent on another for their acquisition, is considered to be an offence against human dignity. The prevalence of such ideas in our culture has, arguably, led to a coarsening of human life in both its personal and social aspects. It has generated unreasonable expectations that life itself should be generous to us, whereas in fact often it is not; at least not on our terms. When life doesn’t deliver the goods we expect, and more especially when we experience undeserved suffering, we are encouraged to believe that someone should be blamed, someone has to pay. In short this is no more than egotism justified as freedom.
St Augustine first coined the phrase, speaking of the Lord, “whose service is perfect freedom.” It is when we render obedience to God that we find ourselves truly free. It is when we thank Him for life and all its goodness that we find true happiness. Such service, such gratitude, our “please” and “thank you” to God are what make us truly human. They also train us to have the same respectful and cherishing attitudes toward others who grace us with good things, and indeed, even when they do not.
Something that is paid for already has its own calculus and the relationship between buyer and seller terminates with the transaction. Something that is received as a gift, however, is open-ended and has the power to deepen and strengthen an on-going relationship. That is why our Lord commended the response of the tenth leper in the gospel story today. Only he saw his healing as a gift from on high which had the power to open up an on-going relationship of love with the Giver, the Lord, a source of thanks and praise, the heart of worship. This then was the fullness of his spiritual healing, sealing the physical. By reason of this gratitude he became a believer, a disciple, a true worshipper of God.
Many, many people were healed by our Lord, but we may reasonably assume that relatively few turned to Him in gratitude and had their lives truly transformed. This is a great warning to us as Christians not to let our seeking stop with the gift, but rather to keep pressing on ahead with love, praise, and gratitude, toward the Giver Himself, the Gift beyond all gifts. Eventually, as our faith is strengthened in this way, we become so preoccupied with the Giver and His love that all thought of the gifts themselves, good though they are, is blotted out by the brilliance of the Giver, who is our perfect fulfillment.
This example of the tenth leper, this heartfelt gratitude toward the Giver of all good things is a Eucharistic principle. Eucharist is a Greek word which means thanksgiving. It is the word used most often in the New Testament for what we now call the Divine Liturgy. In this context it means that when we celebrate the Liturgy we offer our thanksgiving to God for all that He is, and all that He has done for us. Is this not how the anaphora begins? The priest says: “Let us give thanks to the Lord.” We then give God hearty thanks for our creation, salvation and the future promises of his Kingdom. Yes, we can even thank God for that which is yet to be received! The greatest gift of course, the Gift beyond all gifts, is the Gift of God Himself in our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Divine Liturgy, that gift of Himself becomes something as basic as food and drink. It is the Bread from Heaven, the Body of Christ, the Wine of the Messianic Banquet, the Blood of Christ. We are fed that we may hunger and thirst no more, with the Living Word of God, Christ.
As it is before the altar of God so shall it be in our lives also. We make Eucharist, we give thanks. A spirit of gratitude must permeate our faith, our prayer and our receptivity to the gift of life, for good or for ill. With this gratitude comes a transformed life lived to the full and in great expectation of God. But, we must be practical about this. Will you then join with me in a fresh commitment to give thanks to God the Great Giver, the Gift beyond all gifts? Will you practice thankful prayer and praise in all the circumstances of your life? As St. Paul said in his first letter to the Church at Thessalonika: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18). The discipline of our whole Christian life is directed to this end, to give glory to God through love, prayer and thanksgiving. Then, at the End, like the tenth leper, we shall be truly healed.