Yesterday I caught myself turning away without looking. There were two resplendent fall trees side by side, lit by honeyed sunlight – a glorious display of artistry and magic by no one less than God. I had to stop myself, take a breath, and just gaze. The deep, almost purple splashes of pointy leaves of the one tree played against the winking gold highlights in the egg-yolk-yellow oblong ones of the other. And both were spotlighted with sunlight, as though God were saying, “Look here! What do you think of this?!”
I almost missed it. I do miss so very many moments of beauty, moments of loving warmth with my friends and family, and moments of magic. Realizing this has made me wonder if I would be the tenth leper – the one who turned back to say thanks when healed by Jesus – or not? Would I stop and praise God and say “thank you” if I had just been healed of a life-long isolating illness? I’d like to think that I would, of course. But then I think of the factors working against it.
Perhaps I would worry that my brand-new health – something I couldn’t even dare to really believe in yet – would go away if I didn’t do everything exactly as Jesus had asked me to. I would tell myself, “Priests first, thank you later.” I would be deeply, joyfully glad; I would just delay saying it.
But thinking that I had a part in the healing, that it wasn’t just an immense gift, given by God out of love alone, puts the event under my control. Suddenly my actions determine whether the healing happens. It edges God out of the picture.
Second, perhaps I would be on to other concerns. I was just healed! Wow! Now I can go get that loan from my brother so that I can start up the business I have been dreaming of ever since I first fell sick with leprosy. I’d better hurry and do that. I feel strongly that this is God’s dream for me, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint! And once again God’s miracle is edged out.
Third, who am I without my illness? In a strange, negative way it has defined me. And fourth, I’d better not let anybody else know of my good fortune, because, well, you never know how they might make me pay for it.
Truth be told, saying thank you for God’s miracles is an act of profound humility. To do it we have to set aside our ego concerns. We must let go of the perspective that we are in charge. We must unbend from our overwhelming sense of self-importance.
Truth be told, the miracles are all around us all the time. In sunlight on tree leaves, in the dance of light on water, in the breath of a loved one sleeping next to us, in the small gift of a mentor’s attention the gift of creation shines out at us. Big miracles are commonplace. That anything exists is a huge miracle. That we have the consciousness to experience it and comment on it is an even huger miracle. That God longs for our comments, our thanks – how astounding is that!
There are two healings in the story of the lepers and Jesus. There is the healing of the physical affliction of leprosy, which all the afflicted receive. And then there is the healing of self-importance and self-aggrandizement the tenth leper experiences. Only the humility of saying thank you allows for that.