“Cleansed, but not saved” was the theme of a homily I heard last Sunday. The homilist took his cue from the Gospel reading (Lk 17:11-19) in which Jesus cleanses ten lepers, but only one—a Samaritan—returns to give thanks. “Ten were cleansed, were they not?” Jesus asks. “Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then He turns to the one who came back and says “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
Ten persons were cleansed by Jesus. They were relieved of terrible objective suffering and restored to health. But only one was saved. What made the difference? Gratitude, said the priest.
This got me reflecting. Why would gratitude make such an ultimate difference? What was that difference? Perhaps the ten were at first only cleansed in a physical or bodily sense, and only the one who came back was cleansed a second time, and now in a spiritual sense?
Yes, surely. But my thoughts went in different, more personalist direction. I was thinking about the way in which God’s saving work among persons requires our free cooperation, even participation. Laundry gets thrown into the machine and comes out clean. It passively undergoes the cleansing. With persons it is different. It is not just that persons have souls, and that souls require a different kind of washing. It is rather that persons are so constituted that they cannot be washed (as persons) without freely willing it. Persons cannot be cleansed by passively undergoing some procedure. They must want it and go along with it. In other words, they must subjectively appropriate the washing.
This, I think, is why the gratitude of the one leper is so important. It shows that he saw the cleansing action not simply as a fantastic bit of good luck that happened to him, but rather as a great gift coming from a loving and compassionate Giver. As such it called for a proper and personal response; for “active receptivity” and deep gratitude. By giving this response, the leper allowed the cleansing to do its deeper and saving work—not just in his flesh, but in his very self.
Gratitude is the means by which a subject, a self, appropriates a gift, and makes the giving and receiving a genuinely inter-personal act.