Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dynamic Gratitude

The Gospel of Luke includes a transitional text (8:1-3) that we might be tempted to dismiss because of its simplicity. Saint Luke presents Jesus, the itinerant preacher, travelling from village to village, “proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.” Traveling with Jesus are the Twelve and a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, among others. 

That the evangelist includes the names of these women is not an insignificant detail. Along with Mary (the wife of Cleopas), Salome (the mother of James and John), and Martha of Bethany, these women are celebrated as the “Myrrhbearers,” a name that honors the part they played as witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection. Tradition holds that these were the women who prepared the body of Jesus for burial and who were among the first to announce the Good News on that Easter morning. 

Myrrh, an essential element in preparing a body for burial, is a costly resin. The generosity of these women, whose valuable gift was a sign of their love for the crucified Lord, was also an expression of the gratitude they felt for the One who given them so much. Saint Luke simply relates that they had been “cured of evil spirits and infirmities,” but whatever it was that Jesus did for them, their relationship with him left an indelible mark and changed their lives forever. These women weren’t just benefactors of Jesus’ ministry—they became missionaries in their own right. 

We see the same spirit of gratitude at work in the story of the Ten Lepers (Luke17:11-19). Although all the lepers were cured of their illness, only one returned to say thank you. Although we often focus on the physical healing in the story, the lepers, like the Myrrhbearers, were given something even more precious—they were offered a new identity, a fullness of life that can only come through a relationship with Jesus. What they might have been before did not matter. Jesus had made them new creatures, whole and holy reflections of the God in whose image they were made: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).   

Cardinal Basil Hume said that “To say ‘thank you’ is very human and very lovely.” We have so much for which we can and should be thankful, most especially for the gift of wholeness and holiness that is made available to us through our engagement of God’s Word, through the sacraments, and the living Tradition of the Church. But we should also recall that true gratitude, the kind shown by the Myrrhbearers and the leper, is dynamic and is best expressed in acts of love and kindness. Because we have been so richly blessed, who are called to a blessing for others.


A prayer for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time +
May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
At all times go before us and follow after
And make us always determined
To carry out good works.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from the Roman Missal)


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