God Noticed

At first blush, this week’s Gospel is pretty clear on the worth and necessity of gratitude. I dare say it is the most overlooked aspect in the prayer practice of many people, but that assertion is based simply on the observation that lots of folks don’t pray as they ought. I don’t think it outlandish to suggest that most people pray out of need and may simply not recognize when prayers are answered, but the lepers in today’s Gospel…well, they would have to have noticed.

Why, then, were they absent? We don’t hear any more of them, so even if they completed Jesus’s instruction to the letter, would they not have sought him out?

Prayer without gratitude is almost natural for those who believe in God. I know that when I was a grade school student (and by no means a shining example of diligence), my misguided, desperate, and immature prayer was almost used as a substitute for actual study, when time was short. Certainly, this is no goal for either study or prayer, but I believe fits a kind of stereotype of early prayer.

As I grew, I relied more and more on myself, cramming for tests and quizzes, rather than naively hoping that prayer would suffice. I think, as we become more capable and more responsible, we pray less for help in smaller pursuits, and therefore train ourselves to simply pray less, unless we feel truly desperate. However, when challenges get big enough, most of us still retain that instinct to call on God when we believe ourselves insufficient.

Much of this is easy to understand, but we too think so little of the one who gave the healing of a relationship, the clear results on a medical exam, or the wherewithal to garner a passing grade in a pinch, for some examples.

What strikes me in this Gospel story is not so much that those Jesus healed were ungrateful, but that their lack of gratitude is noticed. That the lepers did not express thanksgiving for being delivered is only somewhat surprising—I live that moment more frequently than I care to recall.

It is a little startling that Jesus’ thought is first for those who didn’t recognize the source of their healing. Jesus knew well that the others were healed, as he indicates with the peculiar (if not passive-aggressive) phrase, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?” (As an aside, we Minnesotan/midwesterners can take some hope from the fact that the Lord himself was not purely averse to the occasional passive-aggressivism).

We can’t draw many conclusions from the fact that Jesus first acknowledges that only one (the foreigner, no less) returned “glorifying God in a loud voice,” and “fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him,” but inquired where the others were. The only assertion I’ll make on that point is that God noticed. The Lord noticed that the others, despite their miraculous healing, did not return to him in thanksgiving or with praise on their lips.

Certainly, we should strive to make our response to answered prayer more explicit, with gratitude in our hearts and the praise of God in our mouths. We should be more like the Samaritan (an outcast among the Jews), not only in giving voice to our gladness but also in falling at the feet of Jesus. There is no shame in admitting that God saved us from dangers great and/or small, and there is always virtue in falling at Jesus’s feet, whether for petition or praise.

Simultaneously, let us spare a thought for those who don’t return to God. We all know people who have experienced and live in great blessing, but take all the credit for themselves, or have no recognition that God takes an interest in their lives and doings. Let us pray for them.

Our faith expressed in thanksgiving is noticed by God, and that faith will save us, Glory to Jesus Christ! Let us hope our family, friends, and neighbors come to know the same.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

 

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