Listen here to my homily for Thanksgiving. It was given to Saint James Parish in Erie, PA on Wednesday, November 22, 2017, at the 7:00 PM parish vigil mass for Thanksgiving.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten persons with leprosy met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.
The Gospel of the Lord
Earlier in the week, I had asked around about why it is important to be thankful. I received numerous responses from many different people in different areas of life. All these answers were different, but mostly all had a common thread: they couldn’t answer the question.
The question I posed was to tell me why it is important to be thankful. Most, not all, but most of the answers I received were about what we should be thankful, for instance:
- Our life
- Our homes
- That we have food to eat
- Our family
- Our friends
- Our freedom
- Our liberties
- Our country
These are all important things to be thankful for, yet they do not answer the question of why should we be thankful? Why is being thankful important?
But, all of the responses I did received pointed to the answer of why.
In our gospel today, we hear about how the ten lepers who cried out to Jesus were healed. Jesus invited these outcasts to go to the priest and show themselves to show that they were made clean. Why in the world would these lepers need to show themselves to the priests?
It has nothing to do with the priest’s religious status, but rather their political status. The priests were the ones who decided who was clean and healthy and who was diseased and dirty. They were the ones that decided if you could stay in society with family and friends, or if you had to be ostracized from the rest of the community. This sounds extremely harsh, doesn’t it?
We must remember, most of the rules and laws laid down by the Jewish leaders were done so to protect the rest of the community. Leprosy is an extremely contagious and debilitating disease. The priests were the ones who interpreted the law, and the law said to remove these people from the community to protect public health. Yes, it was an abused law, but it served an important role in the life of the Jewish people.
And yet, Jesus broke those barriers. He went against the norms of the society. He spoke to these ten lepers who could possibly make Him ill. He went against what was decided to be an authoritative law of God to teach a lesson. Jesus spoke to the lepers, telling them to go and present themselves to the priests so that they could be remitted into society; Jesus was giving them a second chance at life.
These lepers knew what this meant when He said go present yourselves to the priests, and that’s why they ran off! They were excited! They had hope! But that is not the end of our story. Of the ten, only one returned. We cannot judge the other nine for not returning; they were excited! They saw an opportunity and took it. Who wouldn’t??
So let us look at the one who did return. It was a Samaritan. It was one who, not only was ostracized from society due to his leprosy, but also because he was a foreigner. He was not one of the “in” crowd. And yet, he recognized the importance to be thankful, to return and show his gratitude.
In our lives, we are given numerous gifts and opportunities. When we receive a gift, we are encouraged to thank the person who gave it to us. For instance, if your parents gave you a gift and you didn’t say thank you in return or show your gratitude some way, don’t you think your parents would be disappointed or even hurt? It’s not that they ask for a simple thank you or even a hug when they give you something or do something for you so as to bolster their own ego or their own importance, but rather because they want to see you happy! They want to see you receive some sort of joy from their gift! When we don’t express this joy, we hurt others.
The same applies to our relationship with God. He has given us innumerable gifts and opportunities. All he asks of us is to return to Him and express our gratitude, our thanks.
That is what the Eucharist is: it is an expression of our gratitude, of our thanks, to God for all that He has done and has given us. The Eucharist is making present again the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the sacrifice that gave us our freedom, our joy, our life. The celebration of the Eucharist is an opportunity for us to be the one leper who returned to Jesus to give thanks, to thank God for all that He has given us, from our lives, to our families, to all the opportunities we have.
And that is why it is important to be thankful. Yes, because we have been given numerous things, and those are important; but it is more important to express our gratitude to God because of love. When we show our gratitude and thanks, we express love; we build community; we show our support; we show we care. It is important to be thankful for the same reason that it is important to love: it gives us life. It gives us what makes us, us.
It is not enough just to be thankful in our hearts. It is important that we make some sort of visible sign of our gratitude. We show our thanks to others by saying thank you or sending a card. So how do we show our thanks to God? By following His greatest commandment:
“To love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole mind, with your whole soul”
“To love your neighbor as yourself.”
So let us not be like the nine who did not show their thanks; rather let us be like the one who returned to God to express his gratitude. Let us not wait to show our thanks on only one day a year, but rather hasten even more quickly now to His presence, to be at His feet and show God our love and our devotion to Him every day of our lives.