I am preaching this morning at Mass, so I thought I'd share my reflections with you. Have a blessed and thanks-filled Thanksgiving!
Satan in Scripture is often presented like a prosecuting attorney. That’s the role he has in the book of Job within the heavenly court – he proposes that Job is righteous solely out of self interest. God points out how righteous and God-fearing Job is, and Satan responds,
“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing?... you have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land.”
Satan bets that if these blessings are gone, Job will blaspheme God. The name Satan is really a title - ha satan - the accuser. That role is found in the book of Revelation explicitly:
“Now have salvation and power come and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.”
But there’s another image that fits the Evil One, and it’s found in the first book in the bible: the Tempter. He approaches Eve and asks if it’s true that she and the man cannot eat from any of the trees in the forest. No, she replies, only one, but if they eat of it they will die. No, no, no, says the serpent, you will not die (not immediately); rather, you will be like gods, knowing good from evil – or, in our terms – you’ll know everything.
But see what the Tempter has done – he has both implied that God cannot be trusted and pointed out the ONE thing that’s beyond their reach.
I like to think of the serpent as the first successful marketer. Because that’s what marketing does – it focuses our attention upon what we lack. Marketing is intended to turn our attention from what we have. Marketing is about creating desire, even in the midst of plenty. Marketing can suck the joy and gratitude from our hearts. It’s ironic that the day after Thanksgiving is a national day of shopping. If we are truly grateful for all we have, how can we possibly indulge in an orgy of shopping for more?
What we need to heal our fallen hearts is God’s grace to first of all recognize the bounty in our lives, and then trust that God will continue to provide – not all that we want, but all that we truly need.
And sometimes what we need is need.
When we don’t have all that we want to live, our minds and hearts turn to God. Sometimes in anger, sometimes to ask, “why me?” sometimes to ask for help, sometimes to surrender ourselves to his will.
But always we should turn to God in trust. Isaiah the prophet gives us the reason for this trust. When we were in dire need, mired in the futile effects of the fall, “It was not a messenger or an angel, but God himself who saved us. Because of his love and pity he redeemed us himself” That redemption came through Jesus – God become human – suffering and dying for his obedience to the Father. That obedience which we could never muster is attributed to us by the Father because of Jesus’ humanity.
God has saved us – that is the first and foremost reason to be grateful.
It is also the first and foremost reason to trust Him.
You provide for your children, right? Jesus points out that if we can do that – in all our imperfections - “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” We can trust God to provide. Jesus told his untrusting disciples, still worried about food, shelter and clothing, “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” MT 6:28b-30
If we trust God’s provision, we don’t have to worry so much, and can focus on thanksgiving. I was told a little story about Rich Armstrong, who's holding vigil while his wife completes her slow exit from this life. They asked him, "what was the happiest day of your life?" He responded, "this morning I woke up around 3 a.m. and looked over at my wife, Pat. I saw that she was still breathing. This is the happiest day of my life."
It is fitting that Thanksgiving falls in the month in which we remember our dead and turn our thoughts to the life beyond this life. Those, like Pat and Rich, who are confronted with their mortality often are quite grateful for the simple, daily blessings that surround us. For them, this life is no longer about what has been collected – except for the collected memories, and the people who are a part of them.
Marketing gets us consuming, first of all a forbidden fruit, and since then fruits of our labor which are often unnecessary – something new and improved, or the latest “must have.” All this consumption requires us to work hard, usually away from our families and friends, in order to purchase the goods which we then give (in the Christmas season, at least) as a sign that we love and care for them. Why not just love and care for one another and spend time with each other instead? Why not make yourself a gift by putting on Christ’s heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience? Perhaps that kind of change, only possible with grace, is harder than working overtime or a second job.
Today when you’re being thankful, think first of the people in your life for whom you’re thankful. Because when our life ends, the new car stays behind, the house will be sold to someone else, your clothes will go to St. Vincent de Paul, and your money will be scattered to family, charity and the IRS. The only thing that endures from this life to the next is our relationships – and then, only what is good and whole and holy in those relationships.
If you have had a spat with a member of your family or a friend, celebrate Thanksgiving by reconciling, before it’s too late.
Build your relationships, don’t let them wither.
Make memories you can be grateful for on this day of gratitude. Consider your many, many blessings, and trust that like the slice of pumpkin pie at the end of your feast today, God’s got more where those blessings came from.