They were 66 of the “best and the brightest.” Young men and women representing all four years at the university; these were the people who will one day make decisions that will impact the world. Many were majoring in global finance and as the retreat continued several voiced a concern that perhaps they should transfer to the not-for-profit world. The speaker quickly assured them that their expertise was needed precisely where they were heading, on the world stage. One day they will sit in corporate boardrooms and direct the course of business around the globe. They will be the ones to whom the world looks for mercy.
But when they make those decisions, what thanks should they expect? There has been a great deal of conversation recently about what our country does for other nations — providing military support, medical care, technical assistance, etc. — often ending with the question “… and what thanks do we get?”
This week’s Gospel is about giving thanks. Ten lepers stand at a distance from Jesus. They do not call “unclean” but, rather, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Obviously they have heard of this man, Jesus. He is the “expert.” He has the power to heal. And so he does. We are told that all 10 were cleansed but only one (and that one a despised foreigner) returned to say “Thank You.” They were cleansed “… as they were going.” Perhaps the other nine had simply continued to do as Jesus had instructed them and would return later, after showing themselves to the priests. The Samaritan, not being a Jew, may not have felt obliged by this particular law. Maybe this was the only person capable of thinking “outside of the box.”
Whatever the case, Jesus didn’t somehow “repossess” their cleansing because they had neglected to thank him. God’s love is unconditional. It does not depend on us. Our country’s leaders, like those university students, often find themselves faced with decisions that determine whether foreign populations will live or die. Let us hope that they, like Jesus, can find it in their hearts to act without demanding a “Thank You.”
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.