Thanksgiving: A Faith That Saves

11.23.17  Thurs. wk. 33 – O.T. (I) Thanksgiving Day
1st Rdg  Isaiah 63: 7 – 9
Colossians  3: 12 – 17
Gospel  Luke:  17: 11 – 19

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy                         Thanksgiving: A Faith That Saves

At the end of John’s Gospel, the evangelist tells us that the entire world could not contain enough books if everything †Jesus said and did were written down.  Many of the miracles that †Jesus performed and His words were never recorded in Sacred Scripture.  So why did Luke include the story of “The Cure of the Lepers?”  Of all the stories he could have chosen, why did he choose that story?   Luke is the only Gospel that has that story in it.  So what did he see in this story that the other evangelists did not see?   Part of the reason is because it speaks of the power of faith, and the Gospel according to Luke is a handbook for evangelizers.  It teaches about proclaiming the faith of †Jesus Christ.  And so it seems appropriate that Luke would include this story in his Gospel.   As †Jesus was talking to the crowd, He had just declared that faith the size of a mustard seed could do incredible things.

The ‘Cure of the Lepers’ witnesses another aspect of faith – “Gratitude is essential for the health of the soul.”  A healthy soul is a grateful soul.  Prior to this cure, the disciples asked †Jesus: “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)  †Jesus showed them a way to increase their faith – by the expression of gratitude of that one leper.  Only one of them returned to thank †Jesus.  Now this person was a Samaritan, he was an outcast.   I’m sure, when †Jesus said: “Go, present yourself to the priest,” the Samaritan man was not so sure he wanted to do that, because the priests were all Jewish.  But he went obediently as †Jesus had said.  Then, as we read: “On the way – he realized he had been healed,” and he came back and thanked †Jesus.  †Jesus said to him: “Your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:19) “Your faith has saved you!”  This is precisely what the disciples had been asking for when they asked †Jesus to increase their faith, a faith that saves; a faith that saves us from separation from God.

In the chapter before this story – †Jesus told the parable of the ‘Rich Man and Lazarus,’ where the rich man was neither faithful nor grateful for all that he had been given.  As a result he would be separated from God, from the bosom of Abraham, for all eternity.  Without a firm faith, that empowers us to serve, we will end up tormented like that rich man.  Serving others is an expression of our gratitude to God, not just when kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament and saying: “Thank you, Lord, for all you have given to me.”  †Jesus wants us to put our words into action, because frequently, words can be cheap.

In our second reading Paul tells us: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgive one another.” (Col.3:12)  Every expression of virtue, of love of others, is an expression of our Thanksgiving to God.  So, †Jesus linked faith and gratitude.   Gratitude increases our faith.  Gratitude expresses and nourishes our faith.  A faith that grows – is a faith that saves and †Jesus affirms that this kind of faith, when rooted in love, not only heals us, but saves us as well.

In the Gospel Luke tells us: “One of the ten lepers, realizing that he had been healed, returned, and he fell at the feet of †Jesus and thanked Him.”  †Jesus asked: “Ten were cleansed, were they not?”  (And notice the vocabulary that Luke uses.)  “All 10 were cleansed, the one who returned was healed.”   And the word Luke uses in the Gospel (he wrote the Gospel in Greek) is “sozien”.   It has two meanings: to “heal”, and to “save”, and both meanings are equal.  To be cleansed is to be changed externally, as all the lepers were.  But to be “healed” – enables one to go forward as ‘a new person,’ not only in body, but in soul and spirit.  Authentic conversion saves us when we have a change of heart.  And †Jesus said to the man: “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19); all because the man expressed gratitude.  Gratitude does two things; it keeps us grounded in the truth, because to be ungrateful to God is to live a lie; it is to deny God’s goodness.  Everything we have is from God.  St. Paul reminds us that everything is “grace”, everything is a “charis”, a gift from God.  Talents, opportunities, your family, all gifts from God are grace; we don’t create them, we receive them.  Paul writes in his Letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of †Jesus.” (Col.3:17)  See everything as a gift from God.  A lack of gratitude dismisses the power and goodness of God, it witnesses to a lack of faith; it is boasting: “Look, I did all this myself.”  It is all about me.

The second thing gratitude does – is cure our sinfulness.  Sin is a turning in on itself as an expression of selfishness.  Gratitude opens us up to God and to others.  It is an expression that   contradicts self-centeredness, self-indulgence and self-absorption; gratitude contradicts, those attitudes of the world.  Gratitude draws us closer to God by removing self from self; by wanting to share with others what we have received from God.  If we want to grow in the spiritual life, if we want to grow closer to God, if we want to grow in holiness – gratitude is essential.   It is like a river that feeds a lake.  If I damn up that river, the lake would be useful for a while, but eventually that lake will dry up.  Love is the way we express gratitude to God and without love – the soul will dry up.  St. Paul reminds us: “In the end three things last – faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these,” (1 Cor.13:13); “Is love.”

We have been a great nation, because we have been a grateful nation.  Our gratitude to God has been expressed in our faith.  The prayers of pilgrims were filled with gratitude to God for helping them to survive difficult months.  We know they were on the brink of starvation and death.  The faith and prayers of the Founders of our country were expressions of gratitude.  The founding documents of our country are filled with expressions of gratitude to God.  In our nation, our gratitude is witnessed by our generosity as a people.  It is part of our national DNA, even if it is not in our best interest, we will help others anywhere in the world.  I am concerned, like many of you, that we are becoming a self-centered nation, thinking only of our personal political agendas, removing the expressions of faith from the public sector.  On a national level there is so much vitriol and anger in our country – like character assassination.  Looking out for oneself alone is symptomatic of a weakening nation.  When we start taking care of ourselves it is symptomatic that our nation is becoming weaker.

But there is hope.  I see it every day.  I see it in examples of individual generosity, responding to those who are suffering from natural disasters, and caring for one’s neighbors.  And I see it with every expression of an American who goes up to a service man or woman and thanks them for their service to our country, and when we also thank those who protect us as first responders.  That’s the hope I see, but it needs to spread more and more by small expressions of gratitude.  Let us work daily in our small portion of the Lord’s vineyard here in Coronado, to return to the virtue of authentic Thanksgiving and to live with this truth: everything comes from God.  Offer prayers of gratitude, daily, as St. Paul reminds us in his Letters to the Colossians: “Let the ‘Word of Christ’ dwell in you richly…singing spiritual songs and hymns with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Co.3:16)   That’s why we’re gathering here this morning – to sing songs in gratitude to God in our worship.  Turn away from self to service for others – for every act of love cures a multitude of sins.  If you’re like me, I’m happy to get rid of those multitudes of sin.  Love is an expression of gratitude.  Gratitude will deepen our faith in God.  Gratitude is essential for salvation; it expresses a faith that saves.  As †Jesus said to the grateful Samaritan leper: “Your faith has saved you.” (Luke 17:19)     In the Name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.