I love Thanksgiving. And I can’t wait for the festive time with family and friends. The food. Tons of food. Lots and lots of good stuff. Yes, the cornucopia of blessing is overflowing. But I don’t want to thank God like the damned. I don’t want to celebrate the good things of life like the unjustified Pharisee.
This Thanksgiving millions of Americans will indulge in self-righteousness. And they’ll do it by thanking God. It’s because the notion that prosperity, particularly in health and wealth, are the key tokens of Divine blessing. This is an American ideology even though many do not formally subscribe to the Prosperity Theology that dominates huge swaths of contemporary evangelicalism.
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells about a Pharisee, prosperous in the stuff that mattered to him, went to the temple to pray. There was also in that same place a publican, spiritually broken and alone, praying at the same time. The Pharisee could not help but contemplate on all the advantages that he had over that poor, broken, despised publican and so he thanked God.
Yes, he thanked God!
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
The point is that while he thanked God his motive was a sense of superiority. He was better. He was not like other men and certainly not like the scumbag tax collector.
Those who embrace Prosperity Theology, whether formally or naturally (because it is human nature), cannot help but think of those with less health and wealth as inferior. It’s America’s Phariseeism. Millions of Christians will, like the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14), thank God that He did not make them like those who have less. Thanksgiving for many, as it did for the Pharisee, disguises smug superiority and sacralizes indulgence.
We love to symbolize our thanksgiving with a cornucopia overflowing with fruit and wine. But in a culture that intuitively thinks of more wealth and health as a direct proof of Divine blessing, the overflowing cornucopia is a symbol of our sense of superiority. Somehow all this blessing is because we are not “like other men.” Thanking God becomes an opportunity for us to pat ourselves on the back.
Perhaps we should take our cue from the publican and, instead of patting ourselves on the back, beat our chests. Jesus said that it was the tax collector, not the Pharisee thanking God (!), that walked away forgiven. And, forgiven, he was truly grateful.
The poor, spiritual beggar walked out of the temple, in the presence of his self-rigtheous foe, a very humble and thankful man. He had been justified. His self-righteous critic was busy counting his blessings.
This coming Sunday our church will do, as it does every Sunday, the Lord’s Supper. It’s our weekly Thanksgiving Meal. It is sometimes called The Eucharist. Eucharist, by the way, means thanksgiving. And the Lord’s Supper is, in fact, a thanksgiving meal for the forgiveness of sins. It’s a table prepared for us in the very presence of our enemies, our own corrupt nature, the world, and the devil. Like the Psalmist we say,
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).
True thanksgiving flows from the sense of forgiveness. This Thanksgiving let’s not allow ourselves to gloat in superiority by thanking God! Instead let’s bow our heads and plead for mercy. And then the overflowing cornucopia of material blessings that adorns our Thanksgiving Dinner table will seem almost insignificant compared to the table the Lord has prepared for us in the presence of our enemies, a table so powerfully symbolized in the eucharist meal. We’ll marvel at this simple spiritual fact: Our cup overflows.
And then with thanksgiving we’ll say with the Psalmist:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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