Fr. Scott Lewis writes that God's mercy knows no bounds and that gratitude is the key to happiness and heaing. Graphic by David Chen

Gratitude unlocks gates to mercy

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  • September 30, 2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 9 (2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)

It is often said that we imagine God in our own image and likeness. We think that God shares our likes and dislikes, hatreds and loves, opinions and way of looking at the world. God might even belong to our favourite political party or social class. Throughout the two biblical testaments, God repeatedly demonstrates that this is just not so. God shocks people by violating their opinions and prejudices, and by doing what is unexpected and distressing.

Naaman the Syrian was Israel’s hated enemy, the commander of the Syrian army. But when he was struck down by leprosy, he followed the advice of one of his Israelite slaves and journeyed to Israel to visit Elisha the prophet. Elisha ordered him to wash seven times in the Jordan, and at first Naaman was outraged. He hadn’t travelled all that distance to do something quite ordinary that he could have done at home! Pressed by his servants, he did as Elisha had ordered, and was completely healed. Incredibly, Elisha refused any reward or payment — proof that he was living in a world very different from ours.

Divinity was then believed to be territorial, so Naaman asked for a couple of baskets of earth to carry back to his land so that he could worship Israel’s God. This experience was more than a physical healing — it was a revelation of God to Naaman that he was not God’s enemy. Transformed by the experience of God’s grace and mercy, he dedicated himself to the God of Israel.

Compassion and mercy are very powerful instruments of healing and transformation. They are not bound by ethnicity, religion, nation, social class, life situation or gender. Perhaps that is why they make some people acutely uncomfortable. When we exercise mercy we not only cross these boundaries but we reflect God.

In countless places in the Gospels, those marginalized or even totally excluded are healed and transformed spiritually. The author of Luke’s Gospel used this story in chapter 4 to illustrate that God’s mercy knows no boundaries and that no one has a claim on God. The greater the darkness, the more mercy is called for. In our own very needy age, we can see the eager and positive response on the part of so many to the mercy taught and demonstrated by Pope Francis.

Paul considered the mission of proclaiming God’s mercy worth suffering imprisonment. But the word of God is not chained — something to remember when we feel discouraged at the state of the world or the decline of religion. It merely needs fresh energy and hope from those touched by it. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is something in which all believers will share. Jesus will grant us eternal life and glory if only we are faithful. But the author of the letter adds some comforting words: even if we are faithless, Christ is faithful because He cannot deny Himself, and we are part of Him. The love and mercy of God revealed in Christ is more powerful than human sin or all the negative forces that humanity can unleash.

Ten lepers were healed, but only one, filled with joy and gratitude, returned to thank Jesus and praise God. It is hard to believe that the other nine, healed of such a terrible disease, would have been so unmoved and ungrateful. Gratitude is the key to healing, happiness and so much more. Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB, (gratefulness.org) has made this insight the essence of his lifelong spiritual quest.

It is difficult if not impossible to be grateful and at the same time harbour resentment, anger or negativity. Developing a continual habit of grateful living is both freeing and healing.

The one who returned to thank Jesus was Samaritan — an outsider — and he perhaps did not really expect to be shown mercy. He was stunned and overwhelmed at the great mercy that God granted to him, and ecstatic gratitude was the only possible response.

The other nine may have been trapped in their own prisons of negative thinking, unable to really experience gratitude for anything. Although perhaps physically healed, they were still very psychologically and spiritually wounded. It is very difficult for God to break through our firewalls of negative attitudes, resentment or self-pity.

Profound gratitude unlocks many gates and allows miracles to happen.

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