Thanksgiving Day can be a loaded cultural icon, an indicator of our place in American culture. The turkey, the football games, the parades, the pumpkin pies. An idyllic image of whole families coming together to feast over the bounty of the harvest year. Of boats and pilgrims and Native Americans all gathered together in peace and harmony. And isn’t this all very lovely? Except it masks darker truths, truths not talked about or hidden away.
What if the harvest that is hoped for doesn’t come? What if you are a parent who says Thanksgiving is at the shelter this year or there will be no Thanksgiving dinner? Does this mean that parent is reaping what he or she has sown, that this family is getting what they deserve?
Paul seems to imply this in verse 6 of today’s reading from Second Corinthians: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who reaps bountifully will also reap bountifully.” But even so, Paul must be setting the stage to lead us in another direction, toward another way of understanding God’s abundance, especially in times of need.
Instead, could this passage be about us – the “us” who should and are able to give plentifully? A reminder to love God? And out of this love for God comes our love for our neighbors, a rendering of great generosity. As Paul says in today’s reading, “For the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”
Paul is taking his listeners on a journey of questioning: Where do we believe our bread, our seeds of life come from? What is the cost and consequence of not giving? And how does what we offer to others matter to God?
Let us begin to explore and reflect on what we have to give and why we give what we give. If this giving is coming from our hearts, if it is given to glorify our Lord, then the natural outcome of this will be genuine love for others. The emotions we will experience will feel right and good. And it is this sense of righteousness and goodness that will lead us and multiply our efforts; it will be a rendering that sustains us through each harvest year with thankful hearts.
Our gospel passage today has Jesus on a journey toward Jerusalem while passing through a region between Samaria and Galilee. And along the way, Jesus encounters 10 lepers. Lepers are social outcasts, cursed, unclean; they had to live in colonies outside of towns and could not approach people except from a distance.
So knowing they can’t approach Jesus, they start to shout at him, “Have mercy on us.” Somehow these 10 lepers had heard about this master who can miraculously heal people. And if this Jesus can heal others, then just maybe he can heal them.
Jesus pauses, looks at the 10 lepers, asks them no questions – doesn’t berate them for who they are or how their lives suddenly fell apart when they became ill with leprosy. Jesus simply tells them to go show themselves to the priest – because for the lepers, only priests can deem them clean and able to return to society.
The lepers don’t question Jesus, or maybe they looked at each other in awe, hope and fear, but they do as he says. They head toward the priests who can change their social status, provide them with entry back into the lives they once knew.
One, though, stops in his tracks because he has just looked down at his hands and his feet, and he realizes that his whole body has been healed. That’s when he turns around and shouts praises to God as loudly as he can; he is stunned and grateful. This leper makes his way back as quickly as he can to Jesus, and he falls at Jesus’ feet and he says, “Thank you!”
This is where Luke introduces Jesus’ own stunned reaction – a Samaritan and a foreigner has recognized Jesus as the point of entry into God’s Kingdom. Luke is reminding us that Jesus came to bring salvation to everyone, Jew and gentile, known and foreigner – there is no “other” in God’s Kingdom.
How often is it a stranger or guest who points out what we have stopped seeing? How often is it a stranger who helps us remember why we participate in our ministries, or a newcomer who hears with new ears, sees with new eyes, and heartily says, “Thank you”?
How often is it a stranger who reminds us of what it is we have to be thankful for?
And isn’t that the crux of why we come together once a year, on this day of Thanksgiving? To remember and be reminded of God’s grace and bounty in our lives?
It is easy to become like the other nine lepers. They go and do as Jesus says, and they are healed, too. But do we, like them, follow Jesus’ instructions solely from a sense of duty or compulsion? Or is it because we are able to look down at our hands and feet and see something miraculous? See that we are and have always been the Body of Christ? And can we, too, fall on our knees before Christ and praise God for the bounty we receive and are about to receive at Christ’s table?