Friday, October 9, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for Harvest Thanksgiving
Sunday, 11 October, AD 2009

Haec (i.e. gratia) enim est una virtus non solum maxima sed etiam mater virtutum omnium reliquarum: Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. Cicero, Pro Cn. Plancio, 80.

Thankfulness is an attitude of the the spirit, indeed it is a way of life which lies at the heart of our faith: the idea of thankfulness cannot be spearated from that of grace: indeed, in latin langauges the words are the same, for gratia, grace, means both the ‘favour’ or ‘gift’ and the thanks that is rendered for it. Hence we call the blessing said over food a ‘grace’. From the Greek χάρις, which has much the same range of meaning, comes eucharist, the name of the great sacrament of our salvation
One might wonder why such an important virtue as gratitude is not included among the four cardinal virtues, Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude. St Thomas ranks it as a special virtue under the heading of Justice, which is "Rendering to each one his right" [2a2ae, 58, 1]. Since all we have and all we are is grace, an unearned gift of God, we owe him grace, thankfulness.

Here are a few of the many quotations on the theme of gratitude one can find on line.
G. K. Chesterton: You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
~ When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?
William A. Ward : God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?"
John E. Southard : The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.
Thomas Fuller: Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices.
Joseph Addison: There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance.
Meister Eckhart: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice.
George Herbert: Thou hast given so much to me, / Give one thing more, - a grateful heart; / Not thankful when it pleaseth me, / As if Thy blessings had spare days, / But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
Eric Hoffer, Reflections On The Human Condition: The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.
For balance, here are a few about the vice of ingratitude:
TimothyDexter: An ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating acorns, but never looking up to see where they come from.
Dennis Prager: All happy people are grateful. Ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that being unhappy leads people to complain, but it's truer to say that complaining leads to people becoming unhappy.
Publilius Syrus: One ungrateful man does an injury to all who stand in need of aid
And of course,
Shakespeare, King Lear: How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is / To have a thankless child!

The Readings:
Although the lectionary provides three sets of readings for Harvest Thanksgiving, the Canadian Church does not appropriate each set to a particular year of the three-year cycle (see pp 396ff in the BAS). So while the commentary in the Revised Common Lectionary Website of the Diocese of Montreal comments on the second set this year, as if they were “Year B”, I have a preference for the first set. Last year my notes on the readings for Harvest Thanksgiving were rather skimpy and I am glad to have a chance to correct this . However, please refer to those notes (9 October, 2008) for some general remarks on the festival.
Overall, the readings teach that every gift is from God. More precisely, the lesson of thanksgiving is that everything is a gift

The First Reading: Deuteronomy 8.7-18
On the brink of their crossing over to the river Jordan into the Promised Land, Moses addresses the people of Israel to remind them of the mighty acts of God by which they were liberated from Egypt and of the laws and commandments on which their status as his chosen people depended. In the eighth chapter he insists on their remembering and obeying these laws, and remembering the harsh conditions of the exodus and sojourn in the wilderness. If they remember these things, when they enter into Canaan, the good and rich land, and have eaten and are full, they will bless the Lord their God for the excellent land which he has given them [8.7-10]
We may note two things here before moving on. The first is that to bless the Lord for something is to give thanks. The other is that the words of this chapter are addressed in the singular: “the Lord thy God is bringing thee into a good land ….Thou shalt eat thy fill and bless the Lord thy God …”. This is something we miss in modern English. Do we not lose thereby a sense of each individual in every generaltion being addressed?
At verse 11 comes what Robert Burton called “the caveat of Moses”: when you first come into the land you will give thanks, for the memory will be fresh, but what when you are settled? Beware lest in the midst of prosperity you be puffed up: acknowledge the riches you have to be his good gifts and benefits, and the more you have to be more thankful. The warning is necessary, for it is human nature to take what we for granted, if not as an inalienable right and entitlement. Do you remember Charlie Anderson’s grace in the movie Shenandoah (1965)?
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn't be here and we wouldn't be eating it if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you, Lord, just the same for the food we're about to eat, amen.”
Surely the Andersons worked hard. But how much of the result was a gift entirely beyond their control?

Psalm 65
This is a psalm of thanksgiving for a good harvest. The notes in the NOAB give this outline for the Psalm: vv.1-5, it is good to gather at the tempe to sing God’s praises; 6-8, it was he who created the world; 9-13, and it is he who makes the earth fertile.

The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 9.6-15.
Gratitude is best shown in generosity.
A collection was being taken in the Churches of Achaia (Greece) and Macedonia for the relief of the Church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corithians are concerned with this offering (see also Galatians 2.1-10, 1 Cor 16.1-4, Rom 15.25-27). Paul urges the Corinthians to be generous in their contribution. He reminds them that God’s gifts are given precisely so that they may be shared (See also Romans 14.7: None of us lives to himself).

The Holy Gospel: Luke 17.11-19
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. That is, he is on his way to the final conflict and the cross. See Luke 9.51. then Jesus cleanses ten lepers, only one returns to give thanks, and that one is a foreigner, a Samaritan.
As we have noted before, in Scripture the term leprosy is used for a variety of diseases which are not necessarily the illness now known as leprosy. According to the Law (Leviticus 13.45-6) those afflicted with these disorders were to live alone and apart from the community, wearing torn clothes with their hair unkept, and covering their upper lip to cry “Unclean! unclean!”. Numbers 5.1-4 lays down that the lepers were to be put out of the camp. So the ten lepers call for Jesus’ mercy from a distance. Note that they do nto specifically ask to be healed.
The term ‘Master’ is possibly misleading – we are likely to think of the word as more or less equivalent to “Lord”, as in “the Master of the house”, or “Master, the experiment is ready”. But the word here is not kyrie or dominus, but epistata, literally “one set over”; this is rendered in the Latin version as praeceptor, or Teacher. It is equivalent to Rabbi. If we must use “master” what we should think of is “school master”. The same word is found at Luke 5.5, 8.24 and 45, and 9.33 and 49, where the meaning is also “teacher”.
The one who returned thanks for healing was a Samaritan. On the Samaritans, see als Luke 9.51-55, 10.33, and Acts 8.4-25. This passage, in which gratitude is found only in the stranger, is like Luke 7.2-10, in which the Centurion shows such faith in Jesus that the Lord declares, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith”.
One might wonder just what we are to gather from this story: the thankfulness of the Samaritan is praised, as is his faith, which has “made him well”. But we are not told that the nine suffered in any way for their lack of gratitude. (Perhaps we should not even say that they were ungrateful; only that they neglected to express their gratitude!) Nor did they lose the gift of healing because they did not give glory to God (who, after all, makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good).
One point is clear: that when we read this passage on Thanksgiving we are challenged to ask whether we return to give thanks, or just go on our way, perhaps forgetting the stupendous gifts we receive. In this it brings us back to the first reading, where we are warned against forgetfulness of God, which is the cause of disobedience, and as such is surely equivalent to a lack of faith.

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