Gratitude Is Fine, But It Isn't Enough
If we're really people of faith we give thanks and give back.
We were returning from a Thanksgiving Day church service one year when my six-year-old son said, "Dad! I'm so very thankful." I was moved by those words until he followed up by asking, "Oh, by the way, what does it mean being thankful?" I told him that being thankful means counting your blessings and showing gratitude to God for each of them.
But shouldn't Thanksgiving mean more than that? Shouldn't it be a time for giving to those who are less fortunate? The word has two parts, you know--"thanks" and "giving."
We Americans didn't invent Thanksgiving. The ancient Jews did. They called it the Passover. We read about it in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. In gratitude for God's deliverance from their enemies and for provisions to meet their daily needs, the Jewish people were directed to come to their temple in the city of Jerusalem once a year, bringing one-tenth of their wealth for a gigantic party.
There was one other directive given in the Mosaic Law pertaining to this Thanksgiving feast. It was to make sure to it that the poor and needy were brought into the festivities. They especially were to be included. Widows and orphans were singled out to be honored guests and to equally share in the bounty of the occasion. A celebration that ignored the less fortunate was considered a sin against God.
Thousands of years later, those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition must ask ourselves whether the Bible's prescription for thanksgiving should be applied here and now. Some of us make Thanksgiving into a day when we congratulate ourselves, as though we were somehow especially deserving of our good fortune. Our prosperity is not a sign of divine election, but an awesome responsibility. Jesus said: "From those who have much, much is expected.
Before carving the turkey, many of us will give thanks, and perhaps reflect on the blessings God has given us over the past year. Gratitude is a great thing, but if we're just counting our blessings and stopping there, we're not being good Christians. In the midst of our feasting on November 24th, are we remembering the poor and oppressed in the world, and making commitments to share our blessings with them? Part of being people of faith is not just giving thanks, but giving back.
On Thanksgiving Day, as on every day, 35,000 children around the world will die of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. AIDS ravages Africa, leaving 13 million children orphaned. Here in our own country, the homeless number in the tens of thousands and the number of families falling below the poverty level increases every day.
To obey the Bible, we need to do something about these who have been shut out of the feasting.
On the societal level, we might reconsider our government's priorities. We Americans are 6% of the world's population; we consume 43% of the world's resources; but we allot less than two-tenths of one percent of our federal budget to help the poor of the world. Of the 22 industrialized nations, that puts us next to last on a per-capita basis when it comes to giving. As a country, we ought to be doing more.
But let's get personal. There's something that each of us can do as individuals to live out what the Bible calls for in a thanksgiving celebration. Each of us can contact one of those organizations that provides ways to financially sponsor children in Third World countries. I know of two of them that are completely trustworthy. They are World Vision, and Compassion International. For 32 dollars a month you can feed, clothe and educate a very needy kid in a poor country. When you sign up to be a sponsor you will receive a photo of that child and you can tack it up on your refrigerator. Then, when you're asked you can explain how that child is someone with whom you share Thanksgiving to God for all the good things that you enjoy. You can write to that child and you'll get letters back. You can even visit the boy or girl you sponsor--as I have done.
On that great judgment day, which all of us must one day face, we will be asked of the Lord, "Did you feed me when I was hungry? Clothe me when I was naked? And care for me when I was sick?" (Matt. 25:34-46). Don't you want there to be a child standing next to you on that day so you can nudge the kid, while muttering under your breath, "Tell Him! Tell Him!"
If there is such a child on that day, the Lord will say, "Enter ye into my Kingdom!" And you will be thankful indeed!