I have a friend whose faith is based on a lilac bush. Raised in an atheistic family, she was told God was a myth. She had no reason to contradict her parents, except for the fragrance of lilacs.
Encountering that light scent for the first time at the age of twelve, she was overcome with a new feeling. While delighting in that fresh perfume, welling up within her was a desire to give thanks. She needed to thank someone for the gift of that bouquet. Someone deserved credit. She then realized: she had to thank God.
My friend is not the first to find God through gratitude. In our first reading this weekend (2Kings 5:14-17) Naaman the Syrian is healed of leprosy. He is a stranger to the God of Israel. Yet, at the advice of Elisha the prophet, he washes in the Jordan and his flesh becomes “like the flesh of a little child.” Returning, he tries to pay Elisha in gratitude, but the prophet refuses. Naaman eventually gets the point. Thanks are owed only to God. Naaman then makes a clear statement of conversion: “I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord.” This is the real healing. He has come to know God. Notice, he gets there by way of gratitude. His need to thank the right person ultimately leads him to true worship. Giving thanks leads him to God.
In our Gospel (Lk 17:11-19), a similar dynamic unfolds. Jesus cleanses ten lepers telling them “show yourself to the priests.” Only priests could officially validate the healing of a leper (Lev 13:17), and so, following Jesus’ order, all ten step out in faith. They believe that by the time they get to the priests they will be cured. The point to note however is that only the Samaritan returns to give thanks. The other nine were presumably Jewish, and, having fulfilled the prescriptions of the law, hurried to begin their new life. For the Samaritan however, the desire to give thanks leads him back to Jesus: “he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” His prostration is a sign of worship. Like Naaman, gratitude leads him to the true God. This is the real healing: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”
The Greek word for gratitude is eucharistia, from which we derive the word Eucharist. Gratitude then is at the center of true worship. When we desire to give thanks we are not satisfied until we express it to the right person. This is why gratitude leads to God. Gratitude is frustrated until it acknowledges the true Giver, and when it finds him it worships him.