Fr. Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: Thanksgivings




            The Old Testament penmanship is modelled after Persian historiography (historiography is the study of ancient writings). One of the character traits of Persian historiography is arousal of the reader’s quest to follow a story to the end; and so the stories that the Old Testament inspired writers penned down are page turners. These stories are not only interesting but are filled with loads of moral religious lessons. Some of the stories like the never-ending journey of Abraham and the story of Israel’s delivery from Egypt can put readers on the edge of their seats in suspense while the other stories highlight the creative and restorative powers of Yahweh.

            Today the inspired writer presents to us the story of Naaman, a Syrian Military General who though successful in his various military combats was a leper. When one reads this story, if care is not taken one will be more interested in the miraculous healing of Naaman from leprosy and neglect other important facts. For the obsessed miracle-driven Christian the story hangs only on the miraculous healing of the General but I am more interested in two inspiring moral lessons in the whole story.

            Firstly, I am humbled with Naaman’s obedience to the voice of a slave girl in his household. Normally we are told that per their training and professional ethics, army generals do not take instructions from people of lower rank. But in the story, we did not hear the call to go to Elisha for healing from his wife or a trusted lieutenant but the call came from a slave girl. Naaman’s obedience to the girl teaches us that “wisdom does not reside in the heads of those in authority” and so the need at times to listen to those who may belong to the bottom place of the status ladder of society; because at times God choses the weak to shame the strong. Naaman was not desperate for healing for one to conclude that his acceptance of the slave girl’s suggestion was as a result of desperation. He was just a good commander who was blessed with the humble ability to listen to others and so no wonder he was victorious in many wars.

            The second moral lesson one can draw from the story has to do with his “act of thanksgiving” which happens to be the theme chosen for this liturgy. A sense of appreciation is a gift that not everybody possesses because for some people instead of showing appreciation they demonstrate acts of ingratitude and the Old Testament is full of these examples. In the first reading, Naaman’s act of thanksgiving should be an example worthy of emulation to all of us. Such an act was also repeated by the Samaritan leper in today’s gospel passage. When he discovered that he had been healed, he returned to give thanks to Jesus. These two foreigners have shown us that the act of giving thanks should be present in a Christian’s life every day and I would like to highlight four reasons why we need to give thanks to God every day.

            Firstly, we all ought to be thankful to God for the gift of life every day. Recently I heard of the story of a wealthy man who says that his daily habit of thanking God and going for Mass was acquired when he lost two of his brothers (they died in their sleep). At first, he saw sleeping and waking up as part of the normal routine in life which did not call for any special thanks to God. But when his brothers died in their sleep and he discovered through autopsy that they did not have any sickness or heart related ailment for such sudden deaths, he begun to see being alive each morning as a gift from God. We need to learn from examples like these and not take thanking God each morning for granted. The life we enjoy each day is a gift from God and we need to be thankful.

Secondly, one needs to be thankful to God for his/her daily material sustenance. The shelter, the food, the clothing and the good health we enjoy are all gifts from God. Scripture will say: “what did we receive that we were not given.” Please do not mistakenly think that what you have was earned from the sweat of your labor. Everything we enjoy comes from God and so we should be grateful to him.

            Thirdly, we need to be grateful to Jesus every day because through his sacrifice on the cross our debt of sin to our Eternal Father was paid. On this St Peter will say: “…your salvation was not purchased with anything perishable but it was purchased with the precious blood of the Lamb” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

            The last but not the least is the spiritual protection God gives us every day. Scripture has it that we do not battle with flesh and blood but with principalities and spirits….but because of God’s grace we are always safe. And Jesus will go on to assure us that we are so protected from the evil one that he has counted the hairs on our head and will not allow the devil to touch one (cf. Matt. 10:30ff).

            If in your life you enjoy protection from God as noted above why should you take thanking God for granted like the nine lepers Jesus healed. From the report of the inspired writer one can discern that Jesus was highly disappointed in the act of ingratitude of the other nine lepers. Jesus painfully said “…ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Jesus clearly demonstrates that there is no place in Christianity for ingratitude.

            As much as we need to praise some people for their lives of continuous thanksgiving to God we need to be mindful of the culture of ingratitude that is creeping into the lives of many people today. Some people do not only demonstrate a sense of ingratitude but they can be abusive to the kindness of their donors. Go to some homes today and some children are ungrateful to their parents though their parents sacrifice a lot for their upkeep. We should learn to be thankful to God and those who offer us help along life’s journey. OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP PRAY FOR US.


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