Sunday, October 9, 2016

Giving Thanks

 Twenty-Eigthth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

Not quite two weeks ago, one of our younger parishioners (I believe she’s four years old) left a very unique gift for me in my office: a beet from her garden.  I guess it was awhile before when she’d said, “That one’s for Fr. Joe,” and so, when the harvest was gathered in, it made it’s way to me.  Now you need to understand that this was no ordinary beet: it was the biggest beet I’ve ever seen.  (It was so big, in fact, I thought it might be a turnip!)  Think of a really large grapefruit…and it was even bigger than that.

I knew that such a kind and generous gift needed to be properly acknowledged, and so I sent her a small thank you note a couple of days later.  A couple of days after that, her proud father showed me a photo he’d taken on his phone: it was his daughter asleep, her head on her pillow, curled up with my thank you card.  He said that she’d insisted on going to bed with it for a few days.

Now, I know that this young lady was clinging to more than a small piece of heavy paper.  It was a stand-in for something more precious—a sort of sacrament, if you will, of my appreciation.  Likewise, the beet she gave me was more than an impressive piece of produce (and a very tasty one, at that).  In the process of giving, receiving, and responding with thanks, we had exchanged more than presents and pleasantries; we’d exchanged a small part of ourselves.  And what do we call it when you give of yourself to another person, or give of yourself for another person?  Of course, we call that love.  She’d done much more than bring me a gift; we’d been brought a bit closer together.

It would be easy enough to hear the readings from Sacred Scripture this Sunday and imagine them simply to be a divine reminder of the good manners which we ought to have learned as children: “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!”  But it runs so much deeper than that.  We’re always missing out when, in receiving a gift, we focus our attention on the thing we have received, rather than on the one who has given it.  And how that is especially the case with God!  God’s great delight in bestowing his blessings upon us isn’t in the good things he can provide; it’s in the chance to draw us closer to himself.  Likewise, our delight in responding mustn’t be so much in the gift as it is in the Giver.  Clearly, the Samaritan leper understood this, and that’s what led him right back to thank Jesus.

We have come together before the altar, as we do Sunday after Sunday, to celebrate the most blessed of the Sacraments: the one we call the Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.”  It truly is right and just, our duty and, yes, even our very salvation, to give God thanks—most especially to do so here, where the Gift and the Giver are perfectly one.  

May our gratitude be more than a matter of proper etiquette.  May it draw us ever closer to the Lord.

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