November 2009

We Give Thanks

Jesus enjoyed a good meal; we read it again and again in the Gospel. That fact probably infuriates people who equate faith with unrelenting asceticism and self-denial.

When the Puritans, who weren't exactly known for enjoying themselves or throwing themselves into the pleasures of everyday life, declared the first Thanksgiving they put on long faces, sack cloth and ashes, and went out and fasted.

Jesus, if we're reading the Gospel correctly, would begrudge no one a fine Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends and all the trimmings. Good food, children going thru every color of the emotional rainbow in the course of a few hours, old-timers wondering where the years went and savoring each second despite the incessant background din of parades and football; people toiling away in the kitchen, willingly for the most part, muttering and wiping away the steam. Everyone can draw his or her own image of Thanksgiving from memories past, or imagined.

Now we have the question of giving 'thanks', that's what the day is about after all. Our 'thanks' is not simply a benediction on the past year. For us 'thanks' is invariably the start of something.  If we listen, giving thanks has an action attached.  It requires us to do something. 

Why spoil a good Thanksgiving dinner, one that Jesus would enjoy, with images of hungry, hollow-eyed children with stick limbs who illustrate this week's cover story? Because our Christian understanding of things says that we are all part of one human family, that borders are not divisions between those of us who have and those who want.

You don't have to spoil the meal, says Jesus, who enjoyed his own share of feasts and celebrating.  Jesus, of course, confounded everyone; he seemed to make a habit of it. When the angry liberals wanted him to be radical, he finished the bottle, wiped his chin and said the equivalent of, "Lighten up." When the self-righteous triumphalists wanted him to lead an army, annihilate his enemies and declare victory; he spoke instead of his own failure, his suffering and death. He scolded them for not getting it.

Though we might be hard pressed to draw up a prescription from the confounding Jesus, it is enough to say enjoy the meal to the full, provided that, filled and refreshed, we do what is required. Jesus operated from compassion and from a life whose everyday activities included the poor and the needy. And so must we.

What we give thanks for at Thanksgiving is our capacity to love, our opportunity to love.  And, we give thanks, for the opportunity to act out of the love we share.  Let us celebrate Thanksgiving thankfully and act as Jesus would have us.

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