Three virtues of the healed leper


“As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.” ” (Luke 17: 11-19)

Today’s gospel readings examines a series of interchanges between Jesus and people ill with leprosy. When Jesus is traveling in the area of Samaria and Galilee, the lepers call out to him, for they are in need. For us, too, the dynamic is often the same: God is always searching us out, and travels far and wide to meet us wherever we are (not only physically but where we are spiritually), but often we do not seek to meet him about our deepest needs until those needs become substantial. Especially in the beginnings of a relationship with God, it is easy for people to keep God at a distance, perhaps simply because of busyness, or cultural values that distract us from God (like consumerism, careerism, secularism). As we encounter significant challenges in life, faith can be a resource to which we turn. Here, many lepers seek healing when they encounter Jesus. And Jesus heals all of them.

The story, however, shows two different responses to God’s healing. One is to go back to the same life that one had before the healing. I imagine that the lepers who were healed were, indeed, grateful for being healed. Probably they also rejoiced at what had happened. But they did not connect their healing back to the source of that healing–to God–and offer thanks to the one who was always seeking them out. One leper, however, responds by returning to Jesus. He responds with three virtues: humility, gratitude, and generosity.

These three virtues are related. When the healed man kneels, he expresses humility. He does not see the source of the healing as his own volition, and knows a deep dependency on God. Whereas the other men only know dependency when they are suffering or ill, this man knows that even in his wholeness, he remains dependent on  God. His humility leads to his expressions of gratitude: he openly thanks God. Indeed, given that he may not have identified Jesus as God at all, he also thanks the human source of his healing, because God works through and with the cooperation of other human beings. Last, he goes out and he spreads the good news to others, and shares the gift that he has been given with others. His gratitude to God overflows into all of his relationships and so cannot be contained in only a one-on-one relationship with God. It belongs to a larger community of life.

We also can cultivate humility, gratitude, and generosity by remembering how the Lord has healed and strengthened us in our times of need. By reflecting back on and savoring these moments of divine and human care, we cultivate an awareness of love that helps us also to be more loving people in our families and communities.