Certainly, the first point being made in this Gospel is simply what it seems to be, gratitude. The lepers asked for Christ’s help, he freely gave it. But once their own needs were met, they pretty quickly forget to return to the source of that goodness and simply say, ‘Thank you’.
But there is a good deed more than that going on in this passage. The one who came back did so moved not only by gratitude but by faith. He was different from the other nine, not simply because he had better manners, but because he was aware that he had not only been cured, much more importantly, he had been saved.
The change in their bodies gave them an invitation, an opportunity to be changed in their minds, their hearts. An opportunity to see in their cure not just their own good fortune but rather the saving presence of God at work among his people, in his world.
So, this passage, in the changes that came over one grateful leper, is really a kind of roadmap for prayer. It is out of an awareness of his isolation, his disease, that the leper first prays, first approaches Christ to ask for help. So many times, that is the starting point for prayer. Our awareness of our dependence, our insufficiency. We do not easily accept the image of ourselves as lepers, as wounded creatures in need of healing, and that can be a great block to prayer. If we are to approach God realistically, we must do so as did the lepers in the gospel, saying, “Lord have pity on us. Help us.” And he does. He may do so in unexpected ways, ways that just don’t follow the script we have written. Ways that may not feel much like help at first.
It is an interesting think in this passage to try and speculate as to just what must have been going on in the minds of the ten lepers, when the response they got from Christ was seemingly such a dull and disappointing one. Christ simply told them to go and follow the routine prescribed in the mosaic laws.
So, for them, as for all of us, the next step in prayer must be simply a blind leap of faith. Our needs spur us to make the request, but we cannot let our needs spur us to set the conditions for the answer. We must be willing to accept the fact that God’s response to our prayer is the best possible response, even if it doesn’t fit our plans.
That is probably the most difficult step in any person’s spiritual growth. It is the point at which we are called to transcend, to go beyond our immediate experience, whether that be good, bad, or anywhere in between, and rely on God, not because of what he seems to do for us, but simply because he is God.