Getting personal with Thanksgiving

THANKS to Myriam Zilles from Pixabay for this photo 🙂

one in ten gives thanks

One day, Jesus was walking along and heard in the distance people shouting to get his attention. “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!”

He saw several men standing off aways, wrapped in the tell-tale lepers’ bandages. They were following Jewish protocol by avoiding contact with those who were healthy. But they had heard of Jesus’ powers and compassion and knew he could heal them too.

Interestingly, Jesus mirrored the attention the lepers were paying to the Jewish law. He replied to their requests by telling them to go show themselves to the priest, who would verify their healing. This was according to instructions given for lepers in Leviticus. Jesus honored the respect that the lepers showed for the law.

Heading out to find the priest before they were actually healed would have been an act of faith. But these guys had nothing to lose. As they were obeying Jesus’ instructions, they were healed. One of the former lepers turned around and ran back to Jesus, thanking him profusely.

I imagine Jesus laughing in agreement with the man’s overwhelming joy. This particular man was a Samaritan, and Jesus noted that he was the only one who came back to give thanks, even though he was a “foreigner.” In other words, the Jewish men had forgotten to thank Jesus because they were focused on following the rules.

Jesus affirmed the Jewish men’s observance of the law by healing them in a way that worked in concert with what they had been taught. But he also affirmed the way the Samaritan remembered that his healer was a person, not a system.

cultural norms Jesus affirms

All cultures have their protocol. For U.S. Americans, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to it is chock full of unconscious cultural norms. Many of these, I believe, are customs that Jesus would affirm.

  • Spending more time with family and friends
  • Expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives
  • Baking and cooking for each other
  • Appreciating the beauty of the changing seasons
  • Planning on overeating (not sure Jesus would get behind this one, although he was certainly into feasting!)

Most cultures around the world have some form of harvest festival, when joy is shared over the provision of the year’s crops. So it’s not like Americans came up with Thanksgiving as a purely Christian concept. But a general sense of acknowledging God pervades the “I’m thankful for…” conversations and Facebook posts this time of year.

Like the one Samaritan leper went along with the 9 Jewish lepers, we can participate in Thanksgiving customs by joining in what everyone else is doing. And there’s a lot of value in that.

stepping away for a moment

We get a peek into Jesus’ personality in this parable. He appreciates tradition. But he also appreciates people going beyond what’s expected and acting with sincerity. The Samaritan treated Jesus like a real person, not an icon.

It’s almost like the automatic nature of cultural norms makes it hard to do them with full consiousness and sincerity. We participate in traditions because they feel right or because people are expecting us to do them. But like the Samaritan former leper, we can step away from the pack for a moment to bring a deeper level of sincerity to our traditions.

What would stepping away to thank Jesus look like for you? How can you acknowledge that Jesus is a person who has healed you and given you all these things? The answer will be different for all of us. But here are some ideas:

call Jesus by his first name

When you have the chance to state publicly what you’re thankful for, dare to include Jesus’ name in your thanks. It’s culturally normative to say, “I’m thankful for”… but not specifying to whom you’re thankful! It’s also usually acceptable to say, “I thank God for…” But identifying Jesus specifically is often going a little far. So try stepping aside from what’s expected by acknowledging him in front of others.

use your imagination

In a quiet moment, employ your imagination to bring to life in your mind the scene of the former leper thanking Jesus.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.

Luke 17:15-16

Imagine this scene happening right in front of you, in your living room or wherever you are. Now put yourself in that healed person’s place. You are standing in front of Jesus, or kneeling or bowing. What profuse thanks does he deserve? What has he done for you that no one else could do?

The truth is that Jesus is always with us, and imagining him standing in your living room is not that far from reality.

make a meaningful list

Pick a number that’s significant to you. Maybe it’s your age or the number of years you’ve been married. Maybe it’s the number of months since you lost someone you loved or the address number of your new house.

Now, make a numbered list either mentally or on paper of things you’re thankful for associated with that thing. The larger your number, the more specific and creative you’ll have to get.

Writing down your list gives you the opportunity to save it and reflect on next year. But the list approach is also handy for occupying your mind in a constructive way when writing it down is impractical. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, a thanksgiving list is more interesting than counting sheep! Other opportunities for a mental list are when you’re standing in a long line or when you’re feeling especially grumpy (which may be due to standing in a long line! Black Friday, anyone?)

Let’s make the season of Thanksgiving personal this year. We can get creative and intentional as we give thanks to the person of Jesus, who has so generously transformed our lives.

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