I am grateful to him who has strengthened me …, I who am the foremost sinner (1 Tim 1, 12. 15)
St. Vincent de Paul says that God makes use even of our sins for our justification, that we may become penitent and humble (Coste XI, 397). It is not without reason that at the end of a short prayer of thanksgiving, it is recited, “Thank you even for sin, which reveals to us your infinite mercy.”
He, of course, is not thankful, the individual who misconstrues as permissiveness what has just been said above or the Pauline teaching that where sin increases, there grace overflows all the more (Rom 5, 20; 6, 1-2).
He does not give thanks—or if he does, he does so for show and with certain cynicism—the person who is sure of his own righteousness and despises everyone else. One who is convinced of his being a natural son, not a dog, and is under the illusion that he has a right to the bread his father gives him out of parental responsibility, does not give thanks either.
The attitude of gratitude only belongs to those who simply, humbly and truly—not just as a figure of speech or a literary genre (Pope Francis)—confess they are sinners, poor, sick, whom the merciful God looks upon and chooses. These never think of themselves as deserving the favor granted. They do not claim they are simply claiming for themselves what belongs to them.
No wonder, then, that the nine do not return to give thanks to God. It is enough for them to comply with a Mosaic prescription about leprosy. Moreover, being non-strangers, they feel entitled to every blessing that a kin may distribute. The Healer’s fellow citizens take for granted the remedy received.
The Samaritan, on the other hand, realizing he has been healed, returns, glorifying God in a loud voice; he falls at the feet of Jesus and thanks him. He believes in Jesus more than in a work required by the law. Since he knows that Jews do not deal with Samaritans, the foreigner is exceedingly surprised, perhaps, like that woman who says to Jesus, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” The marginalized on two counts, a Samaritan and a leper, cannot but be thankful to the Jew who proves himself a neighbor to a foreigner in need.
Jesus and the Samaritan break the mold; the greatest is the servant and the last of the ten becomes the first. Both question stereotypes, which we sinners employ. Our merciful Savior wants us healed of our prejudices that make for inequality and enmity.
We are asked, yes, to think outside the box, to go beyond the limits of conventional criteria. So that we may be converted and learn to give thanks, just like Naaman, we are going to stop imagining ourselves to be great personages worthy of grandiose receptions and pleasant baths, nor will we keep thinking that a gift will do the trick.
We will amend too our thinking so that there is room in it for the trustworthy and logical saying, “If we deny him, he will deny us,” as well as for the illogical one, “If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” The illogical divine mercy gives us more reason to give thanks, to be Eucharistic, to do away with partiality.