Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why We Should Always Offer God Thanks

Often the busy predictability of our lives causes us to forget to give thanks to God. All that we have -- faith, family, health, career, skills, and material goods -- comes from the bounty of God’s love. It is easy to attribute our own work as the genesis of all we have. And, in a sense, this is partly true. All that we have, however, comes to us through our cooperation with God’s grace and love. But his loving grace comes first; our cooperation, if we choose, follows. We have much for which to be thankful. Offering God thanks, however, is all too easily forgotten in the everyday occurrences and decisions of our hectic lives.

When I was a graduate student, for instance, there was a crucial moment in my second semester where I considered changing my graduate program. I thought my program lacked the academic rigor I experienced in college, and on some levels, it did. Instead of making a hasty, life-changing decision, however, I sought the counsel of a trusted former professor. It took some moxie for me to make that phone call, but I am glad I did. Through that call, he gave me pertinent direction and advice. But it wasn't just my phone call and his advice that led to my right decision. It was God working through that professor and in me. I had an important choice to make. That professor’s advice, though, influenced my decision to stay the course, excel in my classes, graduate from the program, and embark on a rewarding, service-oriented teaching career. Make no mistake: I was given free will in my decision. But in it, I opened myself to trustworthy outside counsel. During that time in my life, I did not have a relationship with Christ. But God loves us no matter our situation, and in that and numerous other instances, God rescued me and led me along his path. All thanks and glory, then, go to God.

In Luke’s gospel, too, gratitude is a key theme. When the ten lepers meet Jesus, stand at a distance, and plea for pity and healing, Jesus just says the word and they are cleansed. The nine presumably local Jewish lepers leave without a word of thanks. They take Jesus to be a prophet and healer, receive his healing as if they are entitled, and go on their way to meet the priest who will certify their return to the community and Jewish life. The one Samaritan, however, a foreigner hated by the Jews, realizes the magnitude of Christ’s healing. This Samaritan falls to the feet of Jesus and thanks him. Moreover, the Samaritan knows what it is like to be ostracized and plagued not only in his leprosy, but in his ethnicity. It is that sense of understanding, lack of entitlement, and learned humility that tunes the Samaritan leper in to God’s healing and grace. This sense fills the Samaritan with overflowing gratitude, which Luke intentionally contrast with the ingratitude and sense of entitlement conveyed by the other nine. Jesus says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (17-18).

Often, I find myself among the ungrateful, entitled “nine others,” blind to the multitude of healing graces in my life. But if we more authentically tune in to life and notice God working through others, we will witness life’s many miraculous moments. In that realization, then, may we all be compelled, like this Samaritan leper, to glorify God in a loud voice and drop to the feet of Christ in thanksgiving (15-16), never forgetting that God is the source of all that is good.

Happy Thanksgiving!