An Outsider’s Thanksgiving

There is a time for everything. Thanksgiving is a time for festivity, food, family, friends, and giving thanks. There is a time for buying and selling. That’s Friday and these next weeks leading up to Christmas. Yet, buying and selling has seeped into the time of festivity. Thanksgiving has become less and less about a life of gratitude and rather a time to be anxious about what I don’t have or what I think I want or what others want as we flip through advertisements, hit the malls and stores, and literally, buy into the culture of dissatisfaction and always wanting more of something that will never settle the anxiety, bring security, or anything else. Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for what is, with or without, and it’s still ok. We can think about what others want for Christmas all we want and we think what we get will be what they want. And yeah, what they want is what we want, but it has nothing to do with gifts and buying and selling, but rather relationship, friendship, gratefulness, a respect for the fragile life we have been given.

That brings us to this gospel this evening about the Samaritan and the other nine who have been cured of leprosy. What did happen to the other nine? Were they not grateful that they had been healed and could return to the normal life of the community? Nothing says they weren’t, but there was something different with their healing than the Samaritan. They can return to normal life. They can go about their business and begin to integrate back into the life of the community. They fit it and were never totally outsiders. But the Samaritan was and is. There is no normal to return to and the Samaritan can never forget that reality. While the others go about normal business and probably about the buying and selling of the community, the Samaritan remains an outsider, and yet, still has the desire for connectedness and relationship which he has found in Jesus. He returns because the outsider never forgets what it is like to be on the outside looking in, grateful for what is, yet still desiring something more, to be a part of, included, in relationship.

Pope Francis gave some advice a few weeks ago when we gather at table together or any other gathering we may participate in these next days and weeks. His advice to turn off all the gadgets and electronic equipment and dialogue, relate, laugh, cry, be human to one another. Whether we admit it or not we are all pilgrims in this world and want and desire that relationship with God and others. We won’t find it through a screen and we sure as heck won’t find it flipping through ads, wondering what can be bought and sold, missing the time of festivity, the time of family, the time of gratitude. We make ourselves outsiders without even knowing it. We disconnect when we feel we are connecting. What we want is right before us, as it was for the Samaritan, it’s the relationship and contact that brings healing to his life and he returns to give thanks.

As a country, city, community, and beyond we have lost sight of our own outsiderness. We forget that this country was founded by outsiders who came finding refuge, freer relationship with God, free from rule and to express. We forget that we were and are the Samaritan in today’s gospel. Rather, we’ve forgotten and so also fail to give thanks, remembering our roots. That’s the gift of the Thanksgiving table. It reminds us of our roots and were we come from and the times we may have felt like the outsider, something we can and never should forget. Yet, we want to close the door on others. We live in fear and anxiety that what we have may be taken from us. We fear losing it all. We fear because we aren’t often satisfied with what is but rather worry that someone will take what we have and we no longer will. As I said, they do want what we want, but it has nothing to do materially. It has to with respect for life, to remember our own Samaritan-ness, connectedness, friendship, relationship. It’s what we all desire and when it’s absent, as it so often was for the Samaritan, he turns to God and gives thanks for what is.
As we gather on this Thanksgiving, we gather mindful of the outsiders that remain and those we may continue to exile. Maybe it is refugees. Maybe it is people of other colors. Maybe it is people of other religions. Maybe in our own families it comes from estrangement, it comes from divorce and separation, it comes with terminal illness, and many other ways. It is a time for festivity and to remember, who it is we are, where it is we have come from, and what is…and then give thanks. Buying and selling has its place in the days and weeks ahead, but for now, it’s about festivity, about family, about friendship, about relationship, about community, about remembering those who have been left out and for those who have returned, like the Samaritan, have returned now to give thanks for God’s abundant presence in our lives.

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