Nov 23, 2011

Thanksgiving from the heart

"Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
 Luke 17: 11-19
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
"Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
And when he saw them, he said,
"Go show yourselves to the priests."
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
"Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?"
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you."

This familiar scene between Jesus and the ten men, and maybe some women as well, afflicted with leprosy is a powerful moment in reflection on the deep compassion of God.  In Jesus, time and time again, we see the words of St. Paul in the second reading for our Thanksgiving Day Mass fulfilled: I give thanks to my God always on your account  for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus . . . (1Cor 1: 3).
It would be hard to imagine the unspeakable joy the lepers felt as they saw their skin miraculously restored to clean perfection.  I have no doubt that just as Jesus turned plain water into the finest vintage of wine or as he multiplied a pittance of simple bread and fish into a feast for 5,000 people, he restored the bodies of the ten lepers to perfect, unblemished skin.

Yet, the point of the story is not the miracle, as wondrous as that was, but rather the gratitude the one lone man returned to express to Jesus for his healing.  Note which one returned. The one whose status was already at an all-time low in the eyes of the ancient Jewish audience, a Samaritan.  Not only was this pitiful man afflicted with leprosy he was also, by association, a noted enemy of the culture he found himself in. The lowest of the low and someone who no doubt experienced the rejection of all around him. 
You could imagine the whispers and the name calling: “He deserved it! Look at that dog (a common label for ancient Samaritans). Avoid this guy at all costs!”

But one indeed did care.  When he returned to give thanks he didn’t simply shake the hand of Jesus or give him a gentle slap on the back, “Thanks Jesus.  I feel so much better now.”
No, this was an act of deep reverence.  A gratitude born from the heart: “. . . He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him . . .” His face down to the ground at the feet of Jesus. I wonder if I have ever been in a position of such alienation and then been restored to wholeness?  More, I wonder if I have ever truly been grateful to God for his gift of plenty?

Maybe such thoughts should “inflict” our Thanksgiving on this national holiday.  Have we become so accustomed to our advantages and our luxuries that we forget how deeply fortunate we are? Although times may be tough and maybe Thanksgiving this year finds you in a more difficult situation than last year, can you still be thankful?
We can all moan and complain about our troubles: health, family, employment, etc. and yes, there are some real concerns out there. But, in the end we still share a bounty of riches and if we truly counted our “blessings” we would recognize that we are among the wealthiest of people on earth. For this, we all should, “fall at the feet” of our Lord and give thanks.

This leaves us with an obvious responsibility to give thanks that we are able to care for others.  That we all have the means, at least to some extent, to share from our abundance. Our time, our treasure, our talents are not for us alone.  The more we give, the more we will receive.  As the ten lepers called out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” we may be hearing that same call from the Lord in our brothers and sisters in need.
And so we pray this Thanksgiving:

Lord, we thank you
For the goodness of our people
And for the spirit of justice
That fills this nation.
We thank you for our work and our rest,
For one another, and for our homes: accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers)