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  • Reverend James Squire

Gratitude in the Year 2020

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

Thanksgiving is here. It is the moment in the year that draws us in to consider our feelings of gratitude. Gratitude should be a verb not a noun. It sits in the center of the Christian faith for it is nourished by the call to action by Jesus himself. We hear it clearly in his message about His identity. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear him talk about who he is. He is not just a stationary figure but is also embodied in action. We shouldn’t miss the message or messenger when he says: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick and took care of you, and when were you in prison and visited you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:35-40)

What a profound question. When did we see you Lord? Consider 2020 and the people who have given us a glimpse of what unselfish love looks like? The essential workers, doctors and nurses who have demonstrated courage beyond human understanding but not beyond God’s understanding come first to mind. Who have you reached out to help with no thought of getting anything in return or who has reached out as well to you expecting nothing in return? Just think! You will discover them.

The Matthew passage allows us see who Jesus is, and also what we could be as we are the imago dei, created in the image of God. Matthew’s words focus on an action where one will feel gratitude in the give and take of life reflected in someone’s need that has been addressed usually without fanfare. The passage seems to be saying regarding the Christ that we should look to an exchange with another. We need to look for him where you might not expect to see him. Remember the question, “When did we see you? They were baffled? They were looking for a human form, and He was looking for responsive and responsible action. They didn’t see it because they didn’t expect it. You can’t be what you can’t see.

Gratitude should be a verb not a noun. Ghandi put it this way, “Even the Lord himself would not stand before a starving man except in the form of food.” It resonates with Matthew’s question, “When did we see you Lord?”

If gratitude is to become a verb and not a noun, we need to see it in action. If you want a profound learning experience, teach young people for 38 years for they turned out to be my best teachers. They don’t pay attention to what some adults are attuned to like the policeman at the airport arrival area who sees my collar and directs me to “just park right there, Father.” Students really didn’t care if I had a collar on or not. They didn’t care what schools I attended. They didn’t care about where I was from. They cared about what I did. They are not impressed by all the things that adults, at times, focus on. They must have all been descended from someone in Missouri for their watchwords were the frequently heard words in the midwestern proclamation, “Show me!” That is what Jesus is saying in the book of Matthew in answer to the question, “When did we see you Lord.”

I have always been a fan of an expression that is a central lesson in that passage in Matthew for, when you think about it, it is really a passage about gratitude. You saw me when you DID it for the least of these. That favorite expression of mine is “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary!”

Gratitude should be a verb not a noun. Be thankful for when you did something for someone in need and for someone who did something as well for you when you were in need. Those people exist, but you may have to look in a new way, as the disciples did, with that question in need of an answer, “On this Thanksgiving 2020, when did we see you, Lord?” We need to see with a new vision. Jesus shows up in the strangest of places and with people that you wouldn’t expect. He could be wearing a mask, keeping social distance from others, and observing good hand washing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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