Commentary for National Thanksgiving, 11 October 2020
Texts for National Thanksgiving are Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, and Luke 17:11-19.
By Father Doug Woods
Hi again. If you’re living in Canada, this weekend will be the Thanksgiving long weekend. It’s entirely possible you won’t be getting together with family for the celebration, and that’s sad, but it’s also prudent; here we are in the midst of the Second Wave. I hope you and your friends and family are all well. Being safe from COVID is something to be thankful for.
Deuteronomy 8:7-18. Moses’ description of the Promised Land sounds a lot like the place where I live: “ … a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing … .” I have to admit that I speak from a middle-class point of view. I do know that there are people in my community who suffer from lack of food and shelter, and up until the COVID outbreak, we were involved in efforts to end those problems. We know we have a long way to go. Among those in my circle who do suffer, hardly a one of them is in this difficulty “by their own hand.” It’s a matter of illness, disability, or the political-economic system. So as we give thanks on the 11th, we’ll also be praying for an end to these problems; we’ll pray for God to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.
But there’s another problem in our world: ingratitude. Yes, we live in “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but many (most?) of us have lost sight of that. This is not a new problem; already Moses mentions that same problem in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God … (Deut. 8.12-14a).” Yes of course we have a hand in our good fortune, but when you think of it, the world is created in such a way that we already have the upper hand. Creation is tilted in our favour; all we have to do is take proper care of it.
Where is the source of ingratitude? Hard-heartedness? Forgetfulness? There are references to thankfulness all over the place in scripture. One of my favourites is this: “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.” Ps. 51.23. You don’t have to do flashy things to be in a right relationship with God; just be thankful.
Psalm 65. This psalm is all about thanksgiving. It praises God for all the things God has given us and done for us. It lists the many ways in which God has saved and supported us. It’s an encouragement to be thankful. Simple.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15. One possible reaction to thankfulness is generosity. It’s where we say, “I’ve been incredibly blessed, so I want to share my blessings with others.” That’s the case here. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians (and the Macedonians) to be generous to a collection he is taking up for the church in Jerusalem. This sort of thing is one level beyond BEING thankful; it’s DOING thanks. God seems to add blessing to blessing for those who are generous. “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Luke 17:11-19. This text is very rich. We should allow ourselves some time with it.
After time spent teaching in Galilee, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Most Jews going between Galilee and Jerusalem would do their best to stay out of Samaria. Jews and Samaritans detested one another, and it could be dangerous for Jews in Samaria. So they would typically travel east to the Jordan, and then travel south in the Jordan Valley. There is, however, a section of this journey which is in neither Israel nor Samaria, but in the Decapolis. This might be the place “between Samaria and Galilee”.
This reading also tells us something about leprosy in the ancient Middle East. The Jewish reaction to it is covered in Leviticus 13 and 14 (it’ll take you about ten minutes to read it). Those who had leprosy were required to live apart from the rest of the community and dress in a certain way. As you know, community, especially family, was a huge thing in Israel, so to be separated was unbearable. If your leprosy was ever healed, there was a specific set of steps leading to being allowed back into the community. A priest had to certify that you were healed.
It’s interesting that much of what the ancient world called leprosy was really other things, e.g., eczema and fungal infections. Real leprosy is Hansen’s Disease, a bacterial infection which affects the nerves, the skin, the eyes, and the lining of the nose. Real leprosy is a serious illness. “Leprosy” in the ancient world was not so much “serious disease” as ritual uncleanness. There were many things which could render a person ritually unclean.
As serious as leprosy was, and as serious as the separation between Samaria and Israel was, leprosy proved to be a great leveller; Jews and Samaritans were living together in this leper colony.
These ten lepers followed the proper protocols for lepers, staying apart from others, though they typically stationed themselves close to heavily travelled roads to beg for alms. So here they are, crying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You have to wonder what they meant by “mercy.” Were they asking for alms? Were they asking to be healed? Everyone had heard of Jesus’ healings.
Without hesitation, Jesus says to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” and also without hesitation, they follow Jesus’ command and head off to find the priest. Wouldn’t you? To one of the ten, it occurs that this healing requires thanks. We’ve already talked about reasons people FAIL to be thankful. You can imagine it here. They’re so excited at the prospect of going back to their community, to their families, that they just FORGET—but not the Samaritan.
Jesus’ reaction is, “It’s wonderful that you’re thankful … but where are the other nine?” Who would expect a Samaritan to be thankful to a Jew?
But then there’s this incredible pun. Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL.” ἡ-πίστις σου-σέσωκέν-σε. ‘the-faith of you-has delivered-you.’ σέσωκέν "sesuken" ‘has delivered’ "Sesuken" can mean ‘delivered, rescued; healed; saved’. And this man’s faith has delivered him on ALL of these levels, especially the most important one; he—a Samaritan—has FAITH. He’s a believer. Regardless of the leprosy, he’s SAVED