Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who Is There To Give Thanks?

There is a story, recorded in the 17th chapter of Luke that can serve us well as preparation for Thanksgiving.

It concerns ten men afflicted with leprosy, a disease that until recent times guaranteed not only a slow, certain and painful death, but also complete rejection by society, acquaintances, even friends and family.

Ten men, condemned to an awful fate, hear that Jesus is passing by, and seek him out for healing.  Seeing their need, he has compassion on them, heals them and sends them to the Temple in Jerusalem, to see the priests, and be certified as healed.  They follow Jesus' instructions, but along the way one of the ten realizes what has just happened, and returns to thank him.  Jesus receives the man's gesture, but marvels that only one of the ten thought to express thanks.

It's not the one grateful man who commands my attention, but the other nine.  Who were these guys, anyway?  What did they think happened to them?  Were they in some sort of denial about the seriousness of leprosy?  That's hard to believe - the social customs of the day would have assured that they understood the full seriousness of their condition.  Didn't their parents teach them even simple manners - such as saying, “Thank You?”  Maybe.  Did they fear that Jesus would take back the healing, and therefore sought to get as far away as possible?  Could be.  Were they the sort who might have thought that Jesus had taken an awfully long time getting around to their part of Galilee to do for them what they richly deserved?  Possibly. 

They seem to be without wonder or awe or even simple gratitude.

 But what catches my attention whenever I read the story is how modern they seem.  They look at life and take it for granted. 

We often do the same.  When we see someone doing good we are prone to ask, “What's the angle?”  Our movies, plays, literature, even our popular music, suggest that goodness is an illusion, compassion a sham, and selflessness a deception. We seem to have a sense of entitlement that can look an extravagant gift in the face, and see in it something we fully deserve.  Our hearts are hard, and our focus is on ourselves, perhaps on those close to us, and perhaps those who seem to be like us.

In the Bible, a “hardened heart” is a sign of gross inhumanity.  In our society, a “bleeding heart” is regarded as a sign of weak-minded gullibility.

We need desperately to recover awareness that life is a gift, and not our due.  We need to recall that attitudes shape realities, and that we will shape a finer world only if we cultivate the attitudes that lead to finer actions.

And we, in this of all societies, need to look around and understand the scale of our blessings, remembering that it is from those who have been given much that much is expected.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of plenty, but if we consider ourselves Christians it must also be an exuberant, open-hearted celebration of God as the giver, and ourselves as those who have received, who in the receiving have a the corresponding responsibility to share what we have, loving God with hearts, minds and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves.  May you have the most blessed of Thanksgivings!

Howard MacMullen
© November, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment