…In all circumstances…
This echoes Job: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Years ago, I was talking to a man whose house had been invaded and his wife and daughter killed before his eyes. He survived a terrible beating. It was a long discussion, because I could not understand him, his serenity, his forgiveness. “How could you not want revenge?” I asked.
Without any pretense or air of saintliness, he said, “Because if I think like that, my whole life is a waste. I am thankful for the memories and for what I have.”
I must confess, I left that guy with strong feelings of confusion and anger. How could he possibly forgive those who so violated his soul and his life?
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
It was many years before I could understand what that man was saying, the way he was urging me to think. But finally, on an intellectual level, I got it. And then through prayer I even began to understand emotionally and spiritually.
Until I didn’t. “Lord I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”
Isn’t it easy to be thankful for the good things we have? One of the symbols of the American Thanksgiving is the cornucopia. The Horn of Plenty. Our friends, our children, our spouses, our family, our homes, our food, our comfort. All these we are grateful for and we give thanks for.
Yet after we get up from the groaning board, put away the dishes and leftovers, then we may go into our television room and watch the news of refugees struggling just to stay alive, of starving children in many places around the world – including our own country – of bombs and earthquakes and floods and…and…
And we give even more fervent thanks for what we have and for our own good fortune.
And now, bless the God of all,
who has done wondrous things on earth;
Who fosters people’s growth from their mother’s womb,
and fashions them according to his will!
May he grant you joy of heart
and may peace abide among you;
May his goodness toward us endure in Israel
to deliver us in our days.
Today’s first reading from Sirach is so comforting to us. Yet the Book of Sirach contains passages that has little compassion for women or slaves, and advocates distrust and possessiveness over women, and the harsh treatment of slaves.
Even in such a comforting reading, the echoes of evil are present.
And in the second reading from Corinthians,
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here we are reminded that many saints were martyred because of their beliefs. They remained “firm to the end,” and end which was often horrible and shameful.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus is telling the thankful leper that his faith has saved him. He does not mention the curing of leprosy, he says, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Not, “now you are healed” but “your faith has saved you.”
The man whose family was murdered, the man I could not fathom, had faith…”if I think like that, my whole life is a waste.”
Faith. Thanksgiving. Peace.
Bad things happen to good people, as Rabbi Kushner said almost 30 years ago. Bad things. Even on Thanksgiving Day. Even on Christmas.
Faith. Thanksgiving. Peace.
Well, as that man told me, why make our lives a waste? Should we focus on the bad? Should we blame our lives on the bad? Should we despair?
God has given us free will. Life is up to us. How we live it is up to us. So we can accept life as it is given us, the good and the bad, and we can make a decision. We can throw our hands up and despair, but what does that get us?
Or, we can accept what life throws at us and have faith. We can trust in God, not to protect us always from the bad, but to give us the comfort to know that no matter what happens, our goal is our salvation, our life in the company of the saints.
Life does indeed give us lemons. Let’s make lemonade this Thanksgiving.