Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankfulness is faithfulness

It is Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I know that it is customary for many families who share a meal together on this day to go around the table and say what they are thankful for.  It is a good custom, to be sure, but if we were really honest with ourselves, the sheer number of thanks for all the blessings, good fortunes, etc. that we each enjoy would fill up quite a lot of time to the point that the meal would never be eaten at least not before it's cold.

I was thinking about making a list of all of the things I am thankful for.  I took a walk this cold evening, just going over in my head the number of things I have that I should be thankful, but take for granted.  It was a long list and I don't have the time to write it. Instead, I was thinking of this story from the Gospel of Luke.  We all know the story about how ten lepers were cleansed by Jesus.  In case you don't here's the text:

Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
I admit that I don't know the text of the miracle by heart so when I read it in preparation for this post, I was struck by a few things.  First, the lepers are not close to Jesus, but afar off.   This just shows how scorned lepers were.  People who were infected with leprosy were told to keep far off from them lest they be infected, too.  Add to that a belief among many ancient peoples who thought that being struck by disease was in direct correlation to your worth or value as a person.  The text doesn't indicate whether Jesus saw AND approached them, but merely saw them. 

And he didn't heal them right away, but said instead for them to show themselves to the priests.  And they went.  To be given a clean bill of health by the priests so that you could reenter the temple worship and society itself required the priests to go over the entire body of the leper to ensure there was no trace of the disease anymore.  To ensure you were cured was as humiliating as having the disease itself.  Nonetheless, all ten of them go.  But it is only AS they go, that they are healed from their infirmity.  And we know the rest of the story: only one returns to give thanks.

Christ says to the one leper who comes back and gives thanks as saying that his faith made him well.   We have no indication that the other nine lepers who were cured as they went to the priests were reinfected because they did not give thanks and I doubt they would have been.  But the faithfulness of the one also reflected thankfulness.  We can argue ad nauseam as to whether faith precedes thankfulness just as the old Mediaeval philosophers debated whether faith preceded understanding or understanding preceded faith.  Here, in this story, it is apparent that thankfulness and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin.  It is not simply enough to have faith, but to demonstrate that faith in thanksgiving to God. 

I'm sure many would argue that one can still be thankful and have no faith in God.  I would agree, but for the Christian, the two simply must accompany one another.  If we are thankful, we must have faith; if we are faithful, we must give thanks.  And not only should we be thankful, but we should do so joyfully.  A Christian should always be joyful even if it seems that joy is the farthest thing from us. 

So, rather than make a list to share with those who would wish to read it of all the things I am thankful for, I would simply implore that all who are thankful on this do so faithfully and do so consistently. It's easy and natural to turn to God in times of distress and unhappines. It's easy and natural as well to simply go about our daily lives without being thankful.  But if we are not being thankful, then we are being faithful?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!