Beware of Giving Thanks
As the pledge campaign part of being a stewardship comes to a close this month so also comes an opportunity to reflect on all that we have been blessed with. Thanksgiving is getting to be a tricky holiday for me to get through. It can be a splendid occasion, a wonderful celebration. But it’s also a challenging time.
Allow me to set the scene. I am sitting down for the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I am asked to offer grace, and so I begin to mutter words of thanks for various blessings, thinking myself pretty pious, without the least thought of the self-condemnation I may be performing.
I may never examine what it truly means to give thanks. If I am a typical American, I may give thanks for riches, abundance, all the advantages of the well-to-do. And at the end of my prayer, I may say (and haven’t we heard this many times?), “Let us also remember those less fortunate than ourselves.”
What could be happening here? Well, for one thing, I might be suffering under the same delusion as did the people of Jesus’ day. They thought things like wealth and good health were evidence of God’s approval. They considered them blessings, in the sense that they wouldn’t have them unless God wanted it so. And they thought that those people without these possessions (health, riches, the finer things of life) were being punished by God.
The truth we find difficult to understand is the fact that God does not personally bring about all these situations. He does not “cause” a person to be poor, to be blind, nor does He decree the opposite, that the person be healthy, wealthy, loaded with talents.
This should help us see that there is a big difference between being unblessed and being unlucky. Tragedy and misfortune are no sign at all of God’s judgment or a revelation of His unblessing,” His curse upon us for some sin or failure.
We are all equally blessed, that is, equally loved by God. We are not, however, equally lucky, that is, the free circumstances of life have worked out differently for each of us. What does it mean, then when I consider those “less fortunate” than myself? What, in other words, does it mean for me to consider the refugees fleeing from Syria seeking safety or people on Irving’s street corners as “less fortunate?” Are these persons less fortunate because God planned it, because they have sinned, because they are less worthy?
Feeling sorry for the “less fortunate,” I may piously include them in my prayers and say to God: “Lord, help the less fortunate.” If I truly listened at this point, God would answer me by saying, “You help the unfortunate. For, you see, many of the so-called less fortunate didn’t just get that way by accident of fate or because I decreed it. Much of the ‘less fortune,’ the suffering in the world, is caused by those who are rich and who fail to share freely with those who have need.”
Correctly understood, to give thanks for abundance is to give thanks for resources to be shared. To give thanks for talents is to give thanks (if we could but see the truth) for challenge and responsibility. It’s true; we are the Elect, the Chosen People. But chosen for service, elected to get busy sharing God’s creation equally with all God’s creation.
God doesn’t want us to sit down to turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, or any meal, and choke on it. But He does want us to see that it can’t be “dinner as usual.” There are brothers and sisters of ours who are equally blessed (loved) by God, who do not show signs of being “blessed” with health, food, justice, housing, clothing, jobs. They are God’s message to us that the goods of His creation need to be equitably shared. They are God’s invitation to us, to understand that we are called to give thanks for the opportunity of changing the world.
“…Empower us to make a difference in the world,
with open hearts, open minds and open doors…”
May God bless you in your gatherings and service.