INGRATITUDE AS THE REASON FOR LOSS OF CHRISTIAN IDENTITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ TITUS 3:1-7; LUKE 17:11-19 ]
Titus was instructed by Paul to remind the Christians of their identity and their calling in life to be witnesses of Christ. They were to live differently from the rest of society but at the same time show themselves to be even more patriotic and better citizens than those who were not Christians. “Remind your people that it is their duty to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people or picking quarrels but to be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people.” In other words, Christians must show themselves to live a better, more honorable and responsible life than others because of their newfound identity in Christ.
But this call to be different does not imply a superiority complex. It would be counter-witnessing if it were. Then we would be no better than the religious leaders during the time of Jesus. They were arrogant and despised those who were sinners and not living a righteous life. Rather, our motive in living a good and holy life arises from “the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind.” We are conscious that we are sinners and do not deserve His love and mercy. Indeed, “It was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us.”
God loves us and saves us even when we are not worthy of His love and mercy. He has given us a new life in baptism and the personal gift of His Holy Spirit. “It was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour.” Indeed, this is such a wonderful gift even though we are undeserving. God chose to take away our sins, forgive us unconditionally and give us His Holy Spirit so that we can share in His fullness of life.
This was the same experience of the lepers in today’s gospel. They were outcasts and totally hopeless. Those with leprosy were just waiting for death. Their flesh rotted before their very eyes. Those in the advanced stage of leprosy were almost unrecognizable. They were reduced to less than a human being. No cure was expected. They were excommunicated from their community and estranged, especially from their loved ones. Everyone avoided them. Perhaps the only comfort was that they had each other. But seeing each other deteriorating each day added more discouragement and despair in their lives. And so when they heard that Jesus was in one of the villages, they came to meet him. “They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.'” He was their only hope left. They had heard of Jesus’ miraculous powers and so they pleaded with Jesus to heal them and restore their identity.
The Lord in His compassion for them, said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” He had no obligation to heal them. Most of them were not even His fellow Jews, and one was a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews. But Jesus went beyond race and social prejudices. He cured them all the same. In faith, He asked them to claim healing by showing themselves to the priests so that they could be certified that they were healed. We read that “as they were going away they were cleansed.” It was their faith in the Lord that cured them of their deadly infection. Without faith, they would not have been cured. Until then, the ten lepers cooperated with the grace of God. They were receptive of the divine love and mercy of God. Indeed, they would have been extremely elated and excited that their identity was restored and that they could be reunited with their families. It was too good to be true and too wonderful that immediately, they went back home to celebrate their cure.
However, although all were cured, only one was really saved. And this man was a Samaritan. “Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.'” The other nine, as soon as they were healed, forgot who healed them. They did not give glory to God or return to give Him thanks. They resumed the life they led before they were diagnosed with this tragic illness. In that sense, the suffering and the pain did not heal them. They learnt nothing from this episode. They did not pause to consider who they were and who they are now. They did not acknowledge the power of God at work in their lives.
Isn’t this true of many people who have encountered God’s love and mercy? We are so forgetful of what God has done for us. Remember the time when we were desperate because we were not prepared for our exam, or a project, or a presentation and the Lord came to our help and we did well; or when we had an incurable illness or a threatened pregnancy, and the doctors had given up hope on us and we turned to God and received a miraculous healing or a favour; and after receiving our favour, we forgot all about God? We were not grateful for what we had received. We forgot that without Him and His grace, we would not have been able to succeed or overcome our illnesses. We behaved like the Unforgiving Servant in the gospel when the master forgave him for an enormous debt but upon receiving that forgiveness, he immediately went out to seek payment of a petty sum of money owed to him by his fellow servant. (cf Mt 18:23-35)
This was what Titus sought to remind the Christians of who they were and who they had become. “Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries; we lived then in wickedness and ill-will, hating each other and hateful ourselves.” When we look at ourselves today, shouldn’t we be grateful instead of lamenting and complaining all the time? We were worse off and now our lives have improved. But we are complaining that it is not as good as someone else’s.
If we are truly touched by His love and grateful for the new identity we have received from Him, then we would surely have lived out our identity in such a way that our lives would have been radically transformed. We would stop living for ourselves and for this world only. We would have been so grateful for a new lease of life that we want to use this short life for the service of others, for the good of humanity and for the glory of God. Indeed, those who have been granted favours will want to return the favour, not because they have to but because they want to, out of gratitude for the undeserving gifts of God.
Forgetfulness of God’s love and mercy is one of the reasons for ingratitude. Let us learn gratitude and be grateful of what we have lest we take our blessings for granted and become always unsatisfied. We are called to learn from the Samaritan who came back to give praise to God and to thank the Lord. He was the only one who was saved because we can be sure that unlike the rest, he would not go back to his former lifestyle. Rather, as a new man restored by Christ, he would give up his life to praise God and to serve Him in his fellowmen. He knew that his life had been radically changed by the Lord. The restoration was more than just a mere physical healing; it was a healing of the heart and the mind, the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of new life.
If we are grateful for the gift of baptism, we too must live this new life as the son and daughter of God, our newfound identity, with pride and consciousness. From now on, we know that we can live our lives in true freedom and love, because we have Jesus as the Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us to the green pastures of rest. With the psalmist, we say, He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name. If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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