BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY
Thankfulness is one of the finest of human sentiments. A thankful heart knows how to appreciate blessings received, grateful not for what one has in his pocket, but for what he has in his heart. If we reflectively pause for a moment and think of the good things, not of the bad things we have, we would not fail to discern countless reasons for us to be thankful. Think, for a moment, of the many common blessings we may take for granted. We live in a land of economic boom that there is almost no reason for us to go hungry. Autumn is harvest time when the creative hands of farmers and our fertile lands bring bounty to our table. Remember our loved ones – parents, grandparents, children, brothers, sisters – who accept and care about for who we are without expecting something in return. Many of our fellow humans in the wider community – a friend, a teacher, a medical doctor, a counselor or a work colleague – have touched us intimately and turned our lives around. We owe them lasting debts of gratitude.
How about God’s church? Despite its shortcomings, the church has transmitted to us the faith of our Christian forebears and nurtured us in it. It is through the church that we have come to know God’s liberating truth. One fundamental truth, for instance, is enshrined in the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. In healing them, Jesus highlighted the fact that by God’s grace we have received what we do not deserve, and we have not received what we deserve. In Jesus’ time, lepers were regarded as social outcasts and treated with utter contempt. Whenever they ventured from their quarantined places into the outside world to beg for food, they had to shout “unclean, unclean” to warn people of their presence. But Jesus did not turn those outcasts away, instead he showered them with undeserved mercy, and restored them to wholeness.
In a very deep sense, we all are lepers before God, for we all are sinners and have come short of God’s glory, deserving only of righteous divine judgment and eternal separation from God. But instead of judgment and condemnation, God has offered us His love that seeks to forgive, accept and reconcile us to Him. As Paul once said, it was while we were yet sinners that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. An ancient religious poet once joyfully declared, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?” (Psalm 103:8).
But if a person has never known gratitude he will more likely become a master of the dubious art of whining and complaining, a sentiment that poisons his relationship with God and with his fellow humans. An ingrate finds himself a captive to the “Yes, but” syndrome which soured Israel’s covenant relationship with God during their 40-year journey through the wilderness of Sinai. Many times they failed to see the good that God had done for them. When in the midst of hunger God provided them with manna from heaven, they complained, “Yes, this thing keeps us alive, but it is not as tasty as food in the flesh pots of Egypt.” Sometimes we can be like those ancient Israelites when we make it a habit of looking for, and complaining about, the defects in the good things in our hands. “Yes, I have a job, but it demands so much of my time and energy.” “Yes, I am in this land of plenty, but milk and honey are not free.” (To be continued)