By Mark A. Taylor
As we bustle through Thanksgiving with our eyes on Christmas, many of us Americans are counting the cost of our Christmas gift-giving.
“Please bring a $25 item for the gift exchange.”
“How much does your brother spend on us for Christmas?”
“What will we give Sue and Bill? I can’t remember what they gave us last year.”
The thread through most of this is a concern to “stay even,” a compulsion coming largely from pride (we don’t want to be seen as cheap) and selfishness (we have our own expenses, after all; we can’t let this Christmas giving get out of hand).
Buried even deeper is the hidden impulse to receive what’s coming to us, to get what we deserve, or at least what we want. (Even from a “sacrificial” gift we often receive the pleasure of believing we’ve been generous and the praise from others who think so too.)
With this kind of thinking, we face Thanksgiving with diminished ability to be truly grateful for all we’ve received. As I said in this space last week, self-absorption may be one reason the nine lepers didn’t return to thank Jesus for his remarkable gift of healing (Luke 17:11-19). Maybe they, like some Americans, were too busy exploiting their good fortune to say thanks for it.
But I don’t think that’s the best answer to the question “Why weren’t they more thankful?” Maybe the nine didn’t return to thank Jesus because they thought they deserved to be healed.
They went to the right source, Jesus, not some pagan god or human adviser.
They did exactly what Jesus told them to do, obeying his strange command, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
And then there’s this telling detail: The one who returned was a Samaritan, a half-breed despised by the Jews, an outcast even before his leprosy had made him so. But the others? They were Jews! They obeyed the law and quoted the prophets. They were God’s chosen people, God’s favored nation!
If anyone deserved healing, didn’t they?
And if anyone deserves answered prayers, a good life, or fulfilled dreams, don’t we? We are God’s people! We go to church and work in the church nursery and watch our language and read our Bibles and give our money. We’re certainly better than all the cursing, carousing masses, aren’t we? Why shouldn’t God bless us?
Such thinking misses the fact that all our obedience is trivial compared to what Jesus gave to make possible our favor with God. We can’t do anything to deserve that. And he offers his love and promise to every human on earth, including all the sinners we despise or ignore, just as the Jews hated the Samaritans.
We diminish Christmas if we think of our giving only in terms of exchange. But we devastate our Thanksgiving if we celebrate it believing we deserve the good we’ve received.
When we acknowledge that God has given us more than we can ever earn, like the Samaritan we’ll praise God in a loud voice, falling at his feet and lifting up our gratitude.
And when we see that everything in our hands is there only by God’s grace, we may be a little more willing to give some of it away without considering what we’ll get in return.