Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”Luke 17: 17-19
In his response to the Samaritan who is the one of ten to return to thank Jesus for healing him, Jesus commends him for his faith. He also, somewhat strangely, says to him that his faith has made him well. What, then, of the other 9 who were also healed?
One way we can interpret this somewhat confusing event is to see it as an act of faith, on the Samaritan’s part, that leads him to return to thank Jesus, and perhaps that has made him well in a larger sense than the physical healing of his leprosy. As often in such encounters, Jesus tells the person of faith to “rise and go,” perhaps into the world to bring the new life and possibility he has discovered “in faith.”
What is the connection between faith and gratitude that is being implied in this story? Perhaps one way to reflect on this is to think about why it is that we often fail to be grateful. Gratitude both springs from and leads to an awareness of plenitude. “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?”(Psalm 116:12) It is awareness of how much we have received that evokes gratitude in us.
On the other hand, it is our obsession with and anxiety about scarcity that keeps us from recognizing all we are given. As we live in anxiety and fear about our lack in the present and our insufficiency for the future, we find ourselves unable to trust, to have faith. We can begin to see that gratitude and faith are two facets of the same human disposition. When the goodness of others or of God dawns on us, we “feel” full and complete, we sense the abundance of life within and around us. When we are obsessed by our lack, we experience life, others, and world in anxiety.
I have often repeated the story of an experience I had over 40 years ago when I was assistant director of formation. Each year we would take the candidates for a month long ministry experience. One year we were in rural North Carolina and had gone out one day to fix the roof of a rather dilapidated house of an elderly couple. Despite their meager existence, they insisted that we stay for lunch with them. After lunch, the woman showed us around their house and pointed out a rather sparse looking peach tree. She said to us, “Jesus gave us two peaches from this tree: one for James and one for me.”
My own life that very day had been filled with gifts from God. I had comfort, food, companionship, and the joy of brotherhood, among many other gifts, and yet, I had not once stopped and given thanks. In contrast, a person with apparently so little was filled with gratitude out of a sense of plenitude.
So the faith of the Samaritan was a faith based in gratitude. And it is the nature of gratitude, and so of faith, to “go out.” In our experience I was this couple’s going out to us by preparing for us a lunch including meat, which they almost never had themselves. In the case of the Samaritan Woman whom Jesus encounters at the well it was her going out to all around her to tell them about Jesus. What we call “ministry” is, in any true sense, always an act of faith springing from our experience of the abundance of God’s love and care.
When we stagnate, personally or communally, it is often because we have ceased to experience our own lives as abundantly blessed and graced. It is because we become anxious about our lack and obsessed about ourselves and our own welfare. And so, we suffer the loss of imagination. Jesus tells the Samaritan who returns to thank him to “rise and go.” He does not tell him where to go, or what he is to do. That is up to his own imagination. However, in his gratitude and faith, his imagination will be lively and creative. It will be able to recognize and respond to what the others, what the world needs from him.
Faith is an experience of the “excess of life.” It realizes that the life we have, the abundance of grace in which we exist, is far too much for only us. It must be shared. In the uniqueness of our call, be it our individual call or the charismatic gift of a group, we hear the appeal of others and the world to us for what we have to share with them. This is the return we are to make to the Lord for what the Lord has done for us.
We live in a time where the experience of “burn out” seems epidemic. This occurs both in individuals and in groups. It results, I suspect, from our going out and giving merely out of our own superego, as a mandate of morality. It is not the fruit of an imaginative and creative encounter of an experience of plenitude and fruitfulness with the world and its needs. “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift.” When it is a received gift that we are giving, we are not depleting “ourselves.”
The “other nine” in the gospel story are, no doubt, not even aware that they have been given the gift of being healed. They are like the spoiled child at Christmas who just keeps tossing one open gift aside and looking for something better in the next one. They are so unlike the woman who saw her tree as bearing only two peaches not as scarcity but as gift. So often, I find myself more like “the other nine” than the Samaritan or the woman who so gifted us out of her fullness, despite her poverty.
I think we Americans, in our comfort and sense of entitlement, suffer, above all, from a lack of imagination. Instead of experiencing in gratitude the abundance we are given, we are anxious about maintaining it and build walls to protect it. I often think of how much less necessary our military expenditures would be if we devoted a significant amount of what we spend on defense to alleviating suffering and poverty. And so too for my own community. We have received a plentitude of grace and of life as an inheritance. Yet, at some point our imagination about how we were to “go out” to the world became dormant. We began to have so many things to take care of that anxiety for their perpetuation stifled our gratitude and imagination. Our fears about maintaining what we had gained overtook our gratitude for all we were continuing to receive.
Faith springs from an experience of gratitude and results in an active and effective imagination. When our imagination (our hope) fails us, we need to ask about our faith and our gratitude. Have we forgotten all that the Lord has done and is doing for us? Have we ceased to be moved by the question of how we are to repay the Lord, and of how the abundance that is ours is now to be shared?
For reason annihilates, and imagination integrates, sums up; reason by itself kills, and imagination gives life. Although it is certain that imagination by itself, when giving us limitless life, leads us to be mixed up with everything; and insofar as we are individuals, it kills us also, it kills us through an excess of life. Reason, the head, tells us, “Nothing!” Imagination, the heart, tells us “Everything!” And between nothing and everything, with the all and the nothingness fusing in us, we live in God, Who is all; and God lives in us, for without God we are nothing. Reason repeats, “Vanity of vanities, and everything is vanity!” and the imagination tells us in opposition to that, “Plenitude of plenitudes, and everything plenitude!” And thus we live the plenitude of vanity, or the vanity of plentitude.Miguel de Unamuno, Treatise on the Love of God, trans. Nelson R. Orringer, p. 26