A farmer brought a load of wheat to the grain elevator in a nearby town. He stopped at a restaurant and sat down near a group of young fellows who were acting up, shouting at the cook, and heckling the waitress. When his meal was set before him, the old man bowed his head in prayer. One of the smart-alecks thought he would have some fun with the farmer. So he shouted in a voice that could be heard by everyone:
“Hey, pop, does everyone do that where you come from?”
Calmly, the man turned toward the lad and in an equally loud voice replied, “No, son, the pigs don’t.”1
Emmons Davis, a psychologist at the University of California, offers the findings he says demonstrate that gratitude can produce a healthier, happier lifestyle. People keeping gratitude journals slept ½ hour more per evening, woke up more refreshed and exercised 33 percent more each week compared with persons who are not keeping these journals. Gratitude is at the core of all the major religions. Every religion emphasizes gratefulness. Gratefulness is a virtue expected of any human person. It is part of the ethical foundations of world religions which state that people are morally obligated to give thanks to their God and to each other.
The first reading and the Gospel reading are two healing stories of the lepers. Both stories tell us about gratitude and thanksgiving. Following the instruction of the Prophet Elisha, Naaman of Syria is cured of his leprosy. Realizing of his healing, he becomes a believer. He says to Elisha. “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” Naaman become a true believer. He decides to no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord. He starts to have a bonded relationship with the true God of Israel.
In the Gospel reading, ten lepers approach Jesus as he is on his way to Jerusalem. They come to him and cry for mercy. He responds to their petition. He tells them to go to report to their priests. They go. They follow Jesus’ instruction. One of them, realizing that he has been cured, returns to give thanks to Jesus. “He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” This man, realizing of his healing, returns to thank Jesus. He returns to establish a relationship with his benefactor. Jesus compliments him, “Your faith has saved you.” This man has a new person in his life. That person is Jesus, the Savior and the Son of God.
Sadly Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?” The other nine are also cured of their leprosy, but they do not return to give thanks. They are not completely healed. They are still not saved because they continue their journey without establishing their relationship with the Lord. We wonder why they don’t return to give thanks. They might think that they deserve the healing. They might think that Jesus has the responsibility to take care of them. They are Jews who are God’s people. They should belong to where they belong. They might believe that they are entitled to receive the healing. The great enemy of gratitude is taking our blessings for granted or thinking that we deserve what we get. These nine persons do not show their gratitude to Jesus because they lack of realization how blessed they are. The one who returns to give thanks to Jesus is a Samaritan. He knows he is an outcast. He knows he has no claim on another Jew to help him; therefore he is grateful when he receives the healing.
We are grateful only when we realize that we are not worthy of the blessings we are receiving. We give thanks only when we take time to count our blessings. The more blessings we count, the more thanksgiving we offer to God. Offering thanksgiving to God is the evidence that we are in good relationship with God. I recently attended a retreat with a group of men. During the retreat, one man stood up to make a confession. He admitted that he continues to struggle to pray before he eats a meal in a restaurant. He just feels embarrassed. He is afraid that people would look at him and think he is weird or just being too religious!
This man is not alone. Many of us feel the same way. We are afraid to let others know that we are true Christians. We are afraid to show our faith in public. We have this fear because we have not counted our blessings. If we know how blessed we are, we should not be afraid to show our gratitude and offer our thanksgiving to God anytime and anywhere. We understand and appreciate the importance of gratitude. Every parent wants to teach their children to express their gratitude. When I give the children some candy, if they just take the candy without saying “thank you,” their parents always remind them, “Now what do you say?” And every child learns what needs to be said. From an early age they have learned the answer should be, “Thank you.” Certainly as adults, we all know that we appreciate being thanked. So why are we afraid to say a blessing of thanksgiving before we eat?
Greg Anderson, in Living Life on Purpose, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God--he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.
In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, “Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?” The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, “Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?” And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, “Bow your heads.” Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen.”
That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, “We should do that every morning.”
“All of a sudden,” said our friend, “my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I started to be grateful.” 2