28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Thanks Verses Gratitude—Is There a Difference?
I may have lost my Southern accent, but I’m Southern to the core. Shrimp, grits, and biscuits are staples on our supper table, and my children wouldn’t dare not write a thank you note. So, when it comes to this gospel, the leper who runs back to thank Jesus for healing him makes me beam with pride. How could he not? That’s the lesson I have always taken from this gospel.
But, maybe, just maybe, that’s not the real lesson here. Maybe the lesson isn’t thanks but true gratitude. In the dictionary, thanks and gratitude are used interchangeably and, actually, to define each other. But, I don’t think they are quite the same. With a little effort, anyone can dash off a proper thank you. But only the right heart can convey true gratitude. Maybe the real lesson in this gospel has to do with our hearts.
I read that at this time, saying “thank you,” wasn’t common or expected. So, to express appreciation to Jesus would have been out of the realm of experience for these men. They were, however, used to following the letter of the law. Jesus told them to “Go show yourselves to the priests” (v. 14), and that’s precisely what they were on their way to do, following the orders of one “Master” (v. 13) to present themselves to the other teachers they followed.
The one, however, is overcome. He realizes his healing, all that this Man has done for him, has changed his whole life. He’s breathless with wonder. He can’t quite process it. So he follows his heart and returns to Jesus to “glorify God and thank” (v.15-16). The man’s heart is so full, it’s spilling over. My guess is the others are also grateful, but they are so busy following orders that they aren’t able to wallow in the mystery and splendor of the moment.
We’ve all done that. We’ve all marched through magical moments only to wonder in retrospect if we missed something by being focused on the marching, the getting through. Hopefully, we’ve also all had glimpses of the Almighty too.
I call them photographic moments, that split second which for no particular reason, is etched in my memory so vividly I can recall it with every sense. On occasion, I am blessed by such moments with my children. But the other day, sitting on the couch, I looked up and caught sight of my husband. Neither of us was doing anything particularly remarkable, but when I caught his profile, my heart swelled in wonder. This man had chosen me, and chosen me again and again for the past 24 years. There was no place for the emotion to go but up, in thanks to God. Then it was gone, and I was back in our family room doing nothing of particular interest.
Jesus wants us to allow space in our lives to be overcome with emotion. It’s a bit overwhelming and not a comfortable place for those of us who look to check boxes and follow directions. But when we do, we create an opening for Jesus to tell us, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (v. 19). When we do, we get a snapshot of the transcendence, the deep mystery embedded in faith that Jesus wants so desperately for us to experience.