Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Today we celebrate Christmas which is one of the most important days of the Church year. Christmas is the feast of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh, the Nativity of the Lord. We celebrate God becoming man bringing salvation to all of mankind.

Though we as Catholics differentiate the Christmas season from the Advent season, culturally Christmas has become much more than a liturgical day. For us our Christmas Season begins today, but culturally the Christmas season has been going strong since the day after Thanksgiving. For the past 4 weeks we have heard songs about a snowman who comes alive, a reindeer with a glowing nose, and a drummer boy who had nothing to give but a song. For the past 4 weeks we have been baking cookies, writing and mailing Christmas cards, covering homes with brightly colored lights, attending Christmas parties, and greeting each other and strangers with good cheer and best wishes. Though, liturgically, Christmas begins today, that is not true of for us culturally. Culturally, Christmas is even now beginning to come to an end.

Considering the modern-day grandeur and scope of Christmas, its beginnings as a liturgical day and season is not easy to pinpoint. The early church was more concerned about the return of Christ than they were his beginning. In fact, the church celebrated annual feast days of Saints and martyrs before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord became a tradition.

Though the actual date of the birth of Jesus is unknown, we do know that sometime in the late 3rd to early 4th century December 25 was selected as the Nativity of the Lord. Though still debated today, the theories as to why and how the early church came upon the date of December 25 are based on observable tendencies of the early church.
The early church had a high respect for symbolism. On the Julian calendar the winter solstice fell on December 25, and the symbolism of Jesus Christ, the light of world, coming on the darkest night of the year was not lost on the early church. The early church had a tendency to borrow from the world around them. It is possible that in an attempt to offset the influence of pagan festivals the early church selected the date to coincide with a harvest festival to the Roman god Saturn. Regardless of the specific reason as to why December 25 was chosen, we do know that the date of the Celebration of the Nativity of the Lord has not changed since the early 4th century when it was established.

Since then the traditions surrounding this day have been influenced by culture, both civil and religious alike. From Santa Claus, whose beginnings are found in the stories of the charity and the humility of a 4th century saint named St. Nicolas, to the Christmas tree, which emerged from 17th century Germany when pre-Christian traditions surrounding evergreens and lights melded with the early Christian tradition of a “paradise tree”. Christmas candles, window lights, luminaries, nativity scenes, los posadas, Christmas carols, mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, and Christmas pageants all came from a culture and a people from somewhere other than the 1st century, out-of-the-way, nowhere town called Bethlehem.

Even in my own family our Christmas traditions have evolved and morphed based on cultural and personal tastes. My Norwegian grandfathers would not have dared celebrate Christmas without oyster stew or lutefisk and lefsa, a Christmas tradition that my family gladly abandoned in favor of Red Baron Pizza and spring rolls. In my childhood home my brother and I opened presents on Christmas Eve. My wife, on the other hand, could not even conceive of a Christmas morning without the frantic unwrapping of presents.

To pretend that Christmas, the season, liturgical or otherwise, is not a wonderful, beautiful, fantastic hodge-podge made up of cultural, religious, and personal traditions would be to miss out on the very reason for this glorious day. That reason, that Jesus Christ, son of God, fully man and fully God, came to earth that ALL who believed in him may become children of God. The traditions of this season are what make this season truly unique and significant for during no other time of the year do we celebrate, what we celebrate this day, the way we celebrate it.

We celebrate hope, love, charity, and peace. We celebrate our acceptance of one another and tolerate those who we otherwise would not. It is not our traditions, customs, and practices that make Christmas so special, rather it is the fact that during this time of year, unlike any other, we celebrate that which we share in common…a desire for light in a dark world…a desire for peace and harmony with our fellow man… a desire for salvation and the hope that it brings.

Our challenge this day is not to defend our traditions from the culture around us, rather it is to share our traditions with the culture around us. Our traditions allow us to express the love, hope, charity and peace which were given to all of mankind as a gift, in the form of an infant. Our challenge is to share our hope, love, charity and peace with those around us, and to do so again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that, until the Lord comes again in power and glory.

We come to this altar to today in celebration. Celebrating that God came to us…that God is here with us…and that God will someday come again for us.

The Mother of my Lord

Gospel of Luke 1:39-45

This past week I stumbled upon an internet meme that held some truth for me this Advent Season. For those of you who are fortunate enough to spend less time on the internet than I do, a meme is a humorous image, video, or text that is passed around the internet. It typically depicts a cultural truism or commonly held belief in such a way that the viewer is inspired to laugh and say, “boy, aint that the truth.”

For me, this week, the particular meme that caused me to respond with a chuckle was a picture of a comparison list. One side of the list was titled, “Presents Mom Needs to Buy”. Underneath that list there was a long list of names which included; parents, in-laws, cousin Betty, uncle Tim, the nephews, the nieces, and so on, and so on, and so on. The other side of the column was titled, “Presents Dad Needs to Buy” and under that heading the only name listed was, “mom.”

Notwithstanding the truth of this meme, I want to share with you the experience I had while fulfilling my present buying obligation.

I had purchased an item and the nice and competent salesclerk asked if I would like her to wrap the present. Without even asking if it cost extra, I responded, “Yes! I do.” She selected a very nice wrapping paper which contained the brand name of the item with I had just purchased. I thought that was a bit ostentatious, but I said nothing. Then, after professionally wrapping the present she then wrapped the gift in a very bright red ribbon, which also displayed the name brand of the item in bright gold letters. Finally, she placed this handsomely wrapped present, with its expertly tied ribbon, into an appropriately sized gift bag… with the logo prominently displayed on both sides of the bag. As she handed me the gift bag I looked at her and said, “sort of the takes the surprise out of what’s inside…doesn’t it.”

She wished me a merry Christmas, and I took the gift and left the store.

Today’s Gospel sort of lends itself to the same type of scenario.

The Scripture is quite clear that immediately following Mary’s profession of faith, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” that she went with “haste” to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Where, immediately upon entering the door, Elizabeth greets her with these words, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me.”

Imagine, if you will, the nervousness, the apprehension, and the worry that Mary must have felt about having to share the reality and circumstance of her pregnancy. It might have been very possible that as Mary was traveling to the home of Elizabeth, she would have been very troubled as to what she was going to say. Yet, whatever Mary may have or may not have prepared along the way was unnecessary because of the mysterious and mighty hand of God.

Elizabeth’s words to Mary were both a greeting and a prophecy. Her words wondrously and purposefully associated Mary with two of the great women of the Old Testament, Jael and Judith. Women who were blessed for their heroic faith and courage. Elizabeth’s words revealed the love of God and his desire for the salvation for his people when she proclaimed, “the mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth’s words, though they “ruined” the surprise of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, only served to immortalize the beauty and mystery of God’s plan for salvation for all of mankind.

Today, this 4th Sunday of Advent, as we eagerly await the celebration, tradition, and joy of Christmas let us take time to day to reflect upon the mystery…the beautiful mystery of God’s love for us.

Science, nor apologetics, no magic can explain God’s mysterious plan for salvation. We, as followers of Christ, can only accept by faith that God does indeed so love us that he gave us his only son; born of a virgin that he might live, suffer, die, and rise so that we may be called Children of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we prepare ourselves to receive the wondrous mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, may we reflect upon the wondrous mystery of his first coming. May our joyous anticipation of the celebration of his first coming inspire us to receive him today in joyous anticipation of his second coming. May we celebrate today, as Elizabeth celebrated that glorious day in that hill town in Judah; and may we continue to celebrate each day, knowing that our Lord is here with us, and will soon come again in glory and in power.

What should we do?

3rd Sunday of Advent
Gospel of Luke 3:10-18

“What should we do?” A question that rings close to home, does it not? Considering our current social, geo-political, and religious environments I am wondering how often we, here in this sanctuary, have asked ourselves, and each other, that very same question, “what should we do?” Considering St. Luke wrote these words almost 2000 years ago, I find it interestingly significant that the concern, confusion, and desperation of an ancient people has so much relevance and poignancy for us here today.

As we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist, “a voice crying out in the desert (preparing) the way of the Lord,” was fervently calling a sinful people to repentance. They responded to his call and to his message of hope and, in today’s Gospel, they ask the question of the penitent, “what should we do?” A question that we too often have asked ourselves.

Speaking for myself, I will tell you that I do give the crowd in Luke’s Gospel credit for asking John the Baptist this question. Let me explain.

As a teenager I had both the privilege and the curse of working for my father. As the foreman for a large masonry company I had opportunity to spend every summer of my teenage years working for my dad as a hod-carrier. These summers were a privilege because I got to spend time with my father, the man who taught me how to work hard. These summers were also a curse because I got to spend time with my father, the man who taught me the meaning of hard work. The days were long and hot, the lifting was heavy, and the work was hard and always behind schedule.

I learned a lot of things during those summers. I learned it was best to not let anyone know that you were the boss’s son. I learned that not everyone appreciates a 16-year-old know-it-all, and I learned to never, and I mean never, ask my father, “What do you want me to do next?”

My father’s theory about work is simple; If you have time to ask what you should be doing, then you simply have too much time. Whenever I made the mistake of asking my father what I should be doing, believe you me, he made sure that I never had time to ask that question again.

I am not saying that my dad and John the Baptist have much in common, but when I hear John’s response to the question, “What should we do?”, I hear his reply in my father’s voice.

John does not soften his words or his message. He does not allow for excuses or rationalizations he very plainly and simply answers their question. He tells them to live differently and to do the right thing!

The crowd of people standing before John the Baptist were a people who were in fear of judgement. They were a people who were convicted by their sin. They were a people who were confused, and concerned, and desperately seeking guidance and direction. They were a people who had responded to the Good News and believed they could be saved from condemnation and eternal death. They wanted to know what they needed to do.

The challenge presented to us by today’s Gospel is to find relevance in the instructions of John the Baptist. Is it possible for us living here in this little corner of the world, in modern-day, in a period of time rampant with turmoil, confusion, betrayal, and mistrust, to find guidance and direction? Are the words of John the Baptist just as meaningful and beneficial for us today, as they were some 2000 years ago? Can we really find the answer to our question, “What should we do?”

Yes, I believe we can. I believe we can find relevance in today’s Gospel. And, yes, I believe we can find an answer to our questions, “What should we do?”

First, John tells us to turn our attention to those with the greatest need. He says, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” This Advent season, as we are preparing for the coming of our Lord, we should be taking stock of our abundance and from that abundance we are called to charity. For us, as believers in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, charity is not optional. Our blessed abundance is not for our benefit, rather it is for the benefit for those who are in need.

Second, John tells us to stop exploiting our neighbor and/or our position. His words to the tax collector and to the soldier are clear instructions to cease in taking advantage of another’s weakness or lowly position. A practice we often continue to this day when we continue to deny the rights given by God to all human being: the right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.

Thirdly, John tell us to turn our attention to the one who is coming. He reminds us that, “one mightier than (he) is coming… (who) will baptize… with the holy Spirit and fire.” Just like the crowds of people who ventured out into the desert to hear the words of the man who wore camel hair and ate wild honey and locusts, so too have we, the modern-day follower of Christ, allowed the strife, discontent, and disappointments of this life to diminish our hope. Now more than ever this world needs to hear the message which we have been commissioned to share. A message of hope, and joy, and salvation.

My brothers and sisters in Christ let us today take heed of the words of John the Baptist. Let us repent from our sin, cease our accumulation of more for the sake of having more, and facilitate life in our homes, our places of work, our church, and in our community. May we come before this altar today fully expecting the coming of the Lord and actively and enthusiastically engage in the building of his kingdom. This, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, may be the day we cease to ask, “what should we do?” and actively do that to which God has called us.

Has anyone ever experienced a disappointment?

Gospel of Luke 3:1-6

Has anyone else ever experienced a disappointment?  I have.

Speaking for myself I have a tendency to exaggerate the potential benefits of an anticipated experience, encounter, or event.  This is something I have done since I was a child.  I have a very vivid early childhood memory around a family trip to visit my grandparents who were living in Colorado at the time.  I remember being so excited about the visit that I had convinced myself that mygrandparents were going to meet us somewhere along the journey.  There is no rational reason for my expectation, but I do remember that every time we stopped, no matter the location, I fully expected to see my grandparents there waiting for me.  In fact, I had so convinced myself of this that at one rest area I ran up to an elderly couple crying out “grandpa, grandma” only to discover they were not at all my grandpa nor my grandma.  This particular experience embedded itself into memory not only because of the embarrassment I experienced, but more sodue to the disappointment.  I rememberbeing very disappointed that my grandparents had not “come out” to meet me…atsome random rest stop…100 miles from their home.

Unfortunately, that is not the last time in my life when I created and allowed unrealistic and fantastical expectations to distort my thoughts or dictate my behavior.  I have done this many times.  I have done this with jobs, promotions, vacations, with things, and I have done this, far too many times, with my relationships.  In the anticipation of something wonderful I have many times distorted that wonder with unfounded desires.

In today’s Gospel Luke confronts expectations.  He challenges his readers to examine their expectations about the Messiah.  The Messiah who was promised to restore Israel and save the world.  The Messiah that Israel and the rest of the world were waiting with great expectation.

Luke challenges his readers expectations by building a bridge.  A bridge that brought the prophecy of the Old Testament across the chasm of anticipation and places the realization of the expected Messiah in a specific time and in a specific place.  This bridge on which our expectations traveled is called John the Baptist, the desert voice calling Israel to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

In addition, Luke also identifies the geo-political and religious leaders of that time, thereby, establishing a marker, a moment, when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, began his mission.  His mission to fulfill all the promises of God.

What are these promises?  These promises are found in the words of Isaiah which Luke cites in his Gospel.  This central section of the Book of Isaiah, from which Luke quotes, has been titled by some scholars as “The Book of the Consolation of Israel.”  These consolations were given to Israel in a time of exile, a period of time when hope and expectation where all that remained of a once and great nation. These consolations point to an entire symphony of biblical promises to be fulfilled by the Lord.

The Lord will:

  • Rescue the poor and oppressed (Is 41:17; 42:7; 49:13
  • Pour out the Spirit (44:3),
  • Restore Israel (43:5-7; 48:20; 49:5),
  • Come to Jerusalem as King (40:9-10; 52:7-10),
  • Destroy his enemies (41:11-13; 47:1-15),
  • Show mercy to his children (43:25; 44:22; 55:7).
  • Be the Messianic Servant
    • whose mission is to bless the nations (42:1-4; 49:1-6)
    • atone for sin (50:4-9; 52:13-53:12)

All of the expectations, these promises, contained in the Book of Isaiah, which Luke so beautifully brings forward to a time and space when he identifies John the Baptist as the; voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Yet, what meaning can we, the modern-day followers of Christ, hope to find in this Gospel?  What can we, as believers in the witnesscarried down to us through the Apostles and Christ’s Church, hope to claim inthese promises?  I challenge you mybrothers and sisters in Christ that for us; because our faith is firmly founded in our Lord’s 1st coming, and that our hope blossoms in the belief that he is coming again, then our expectations for the future fulfillment of the promises of God are manifested in our actions.

Simply put… are you manifesting the promises of God in your life.  I ask you to examine your life in the light of the promises of God.  Are you responding to the poor and oppressed?  Defending their causes?  Does the goodness of God in you effect and impact the world around you?  Are you merciful?  Are others blessed by you and because of you?

Again, if we truly believe that Jesus Christ came once, as a man for mankind, and we rest our hope that he will soon come again, then ought we not be engaged in his work.  Our work is too continue the work to which we were assigned by the great commission of our Lord, to go and make disciples of all the world through the preaching, teaching, and most importantly living the Gospel.

As we enter into this Advent season

Gospel of Luke 21:25-28, 34-46

So… I did it.  Yes, indeed I sure did.  I went down a convoluted shadowy path this past week.  A path crowded on all sidesby misguided conjecture and fraught with misinterpreted prophecies.  A path inhabited by men and women, Protestantand Catholic alike, who boldly and unabashedly proclaim to possess the knowledge of the “truth”.  A “truth” that they claim has been revealed to them through personal revelation and is only given to those who are the “true” believers. This “truth” they claim?   The knowledge of the dates, times, and events pertaining the Second Coming of Christ.

My friends, I am confessing that this past week of homily preparation was not one of joy.  As I prepared to embark upon this liturgical season of Advent, I was overwhelmed by the negativity I encountered on full display in the internet world topic of “the second coming of Christ.”  Advent is, according to the Norms of the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Missal, “a time of preparation…, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when… minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming…. “For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” 

Delight was definitely not a term I would use to describe my internet experience. For me, the deeper I went into the world-wide web of end-times prophecy the more discouraged, depressed, and disheartened I became.   Global war, environmental disasters, wide-spread persecutions, and apostasy are not the preferred themes of traditional Christmas songs and Hallmark movies.  Yet, in today’s Gospel in Luke, this 1stSunday in Advent, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about these very same catastrophicevents.

It is easy to read this Gospeland then allow the political, natural, and religious events of our current day to darken our expectant joy and diminish our faith and hope in the Second Coming of Christ.  Even today we offer our prayers to those individuals, families, and communities whose lives and livelihoods were affected by fire and earth quake. Yet, despite the turmoil and terrors, we are instructed in today’s Gospel to “stand and raise our heads” in the wonderful anticipation of our promised redemption.

So…how do we rectify this apparent contradiction?  This contradiction evidenced by today’s Gospel and its warnings of trial, tribulation, tragedy, and discord in the light of Advent, a season of “devout and expectant delight.” 

We must first come to understand who we are as Catholics and what we believe.

Who we are?  We are the body of Christ with Jesus as our head.  We are the Church and there is no separation of Jesus and his church.  The church was born on Pentecost and has continued, and will continue, throughout the rest of history until the Second Coming of Christ.

What we believe? We believe that Christ is present in his Church.  We are not “dispensationalist”, nor do we profess “millennialism”.  Each of these fallacies deny Christ’s presence in his church and profess that the church will be “raptured” before the second coming of Christ.  The catechism clearly confronts these false doctrines, stating that “the final age of the world is with us” and “that Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled… by the king’s return to earth.” (CCC 670 & 671)

My friends, we are now currently living in the end times… the last days!

This reality, the reality that Jesus Christ, through his birth, life, passion, and death has allowed us to become the children of God, co-heirs to the kingdom, is the very foundation of our faith and our hope.  Our hope that as sons and daughters of God, the Almighty, we will receive the promise of God, eternal life in perfect in love with our Creator and with his creation.

Yet, in spite of our belief in the promises of God, and the hope which is produced, I believe we, as the church, the body of Christ, have become drowsy and have succumbed to the anxieties of life.  We have allowed fear and sin to exist in our lives, and in turn have become apathetic, or at the very least dismissive, to our mission as ordained to us by Christ.

Today, in this country, the greatest threat to life is not war, pestilences, or natural disaster it is self-harm.  A recently published study by the Center for Disease control reports that the life-expectancy rate in theUnited States has decreased continuing a 3-year period of stagnation and decline.  The main reasons for this decline in life-expectancy?  Suicide and drug over-dose.

Deaths from heart disease, the number 1 killer of Americans, have leveled off. Deaths from cancer and other serious illnesses are in fact declining.  Yet, the average life-span of an American is decreasing, not for lack in advancement of medical science, but rather to loss of hope.

We, as disciples of Christ, members of his body, his church, have the cure to such an illness.  For it is hope that flows abundantly from the well-spring of grace which has been given to us without merit or measure by God, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are his ministers of grace and communicators of hope.

As we enter into this Advent season preparing our homes, our places of work, and our community to celebratethe 1st coming of Jesus, let us commit ourselves to preparing also for his second coming by standing alert, awake, and ready to be the agents of hope in a world so desperately lacking.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Gospel of John 18:33b-37

What is a king?  Today as we celebrate The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we are encouraged to examine our understanding of this title.  The literal definition of king is a male ruler of an independent state, especially one who inherits the position byright of birth.  This is a simple enough definition, however, there are many other understandings and uses of this title.  For example, in chess, the king is the most important chess piece. Each player has only one, which the opponent must checkmate in order to win.  In addition, there can be a King of Diamonds, a King of Clubs, or Spades, or even the Kingof Hearts, all of which have certain strengths and abilities based on the type of game played.

In popular culture you can claim to the be the “king of the world” and really not be the king of anything.  However, thanks to a movie about a sinking ship everyone understands that phrase to mean that you are in love with a young woman in a doomed relationship.  Another Pop Culture reference, one can claim to be the king of New York, or some other large American city, but that identification is most often associated with crime and corruption; a pseudonym for a crime boss or mobster.

It is possible to catch a kingfish, or find the prize in the king’s cake, but in either case, your friend’s jealousy notwithstanding, nothing of great importance occurs.  You can live like a king, or, when someone comes to visit your home, you might welcome them to your kingdom.  In the game of checkers, you can demand to be“kinged”, or, if you are rich enough or famous enough it is possible to be treated like a king.  Yet, in all of these examples, the use of the title king entitles no one to anything.

In today’s modern world, and most specifically in our modern American culture, the title of king is mostly associated with a figure-head, an ideal, or a throwback to some ancient tradition orcustom.  The modern-day king is romanticized and marginalized and has been fantasized to such a degree that the only kings we know about are those in our favorite hallmark movie.  If not that, then our modern day understanding of an actual king is typically that of an oppressive ruler in a 3rdworld country manipulating his people for personal gain and prestige.  In other words, for us sitting here this morning it is possible that we may have a skewed and biased opinion of a king, therefore, making it difficult to understand the relevance and significance of a Solemnity celebrating a king’s authority and power.

In today’s Gospel, Pilate is struggling with this issue as well.  Twice in today’s Gospel Pilate asks Jesus to confirm that he is indeed a king, and, in both instances, Jesus responds by asking Pilate what he believes to be true.  Jesus is very clear in who he is.  He states that his kingdom does indeed exist, and that his kingdom is populated, and that he has both a birth right and destiny to be king, King of the Universe.  This idea that Jesus is a king was a difficult concept to understand then and it is a difficult concept to understand now.

Pope Pius XI addressed this same issue, this same struggle with this idea of kingship, when he instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925.  He connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At that time many Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to exercise Christ’s authority.  Pope Pius intended that the institution of the feast would have the following 3 effects; 1) that nations would see that theChurch has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state, 2) that leadersand nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ, and 3) that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.

The purpose of today’s celebration is not an attempt to convince us that Christ is indeed the King of the Universe, rather it is to assist us in understanding what kind of King Jesus Christ truly is.

Jesus is a king who esteems humble service.  He himself, as the model, commanded his followers to serve others in the same manner.  His kingdom is connected to his passion and death, and though we are currently living in age of his kingdom, it is yet to befully realized.  His kingdom is indeed a kingdom of justice and judgment, yet it is also balanced with radical love, mercy, peace, and forgiveness.  Jesus Christ, as the King of the Universe, is the judge of nations, and will establish his kingdom, in its fullness and in completeness, at the appointed time.  When we celebrate Christ as King, we are not celebrating a romanticized figure head or an oppressive ruler, but one willing to die for humanity and whose “loving-kindness endures forever.” Christ is the king that gives us true freedom, freedom in Him, the King of the Universe.

We give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable

Thanksgiving Day
Gospel of Luke 17:11-19 

In today’s Gospel proclamation we heard about the miraculous healing of 10 persons afflicted with leprosy. We are told that Jesus, as he traveled from Samaria to Jerusalem, came upon these 10 individuals who “raised their voices” prayerfully asking for mercy. 10 individuals who were ostracized from their families and their communities. 10 individuals who had no viable option for help or a cure. 10 individuals who were in desperate need of healing.

It is reasonable to assume that the New Testament diagnosis of leprosy does not accurately reflect the modern-day medical diagnosis of this disease. However, there is little in doubt regarding the personal, spiritual, and social consequences associated with this 1st century diagnosis. At that time and in that place in human history an individual diagnosed with leprosy was assured of the following; 1) the disease could be painful and sometimes fatal, (2) Jewish Law required lepers to be separated from all of Israelite society, and (3) lepers were ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in worship. In short, a diagnosis of leprosy, unless cured, resulted in the total and complete discontinuation of participation in society. A person diagnosed with leprosy was prevented from associating with their family and their community, and their family and their community were prevented from associating with them. At worst leprosy was a diagnosis of death and at best a lifetime of isolation and torment.

Yet, in the mercy of God and in the healing power of Jesus, these 10 individuals found the physical, social, and spiritual healing they so desperately needed. The grace of God, freely given in disregard to the social and religious norms of the day, allowed life and opportunity to these 10 individuals; and, yet, only 1 responded to this grace with gratitude and praise. This recorded encounter is not so much about the miracle as it is the response to the miracle.

Today is Thanksgiving, a unique American holiday. Today we, as a nation, repose from our labors and take opportunity to ponder our wealth, our prosperity, our fortune, and give thanks. We give thanks for what we have, and we are encouraged to be generous to those who have not. Of course, we are encouraged to do this by shopping. Like I said, a truly unique American holiday.

According to recent studies 12.8% of Idahoans live in poverty, making the state of Idaho 25th in nation. The poverty threshold for a family of 4 in the state of Idaho is $24,860 in annual income. Yet, as state’s unemployment rate hovers just below 3%, a 2016 United Way study discovered that nearly 40% of Idaho households could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation.

1 in 8 Idahoans are food insecure, meaning “without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” In other words, 1 in 8 Idahoans are unsure when they will next have their meal. When adults are removed from the equation the number of children in the state of Idaho who are affected by food insecurity increases to 1 in 6.

Idaho is consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates. In 2016 Idaho had the nation’s 8th highest suicide rate. A rate that is 57% higher than the national average.

It is not my intent to discourage or depress your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. I share these sobering statistics only to highlight the ongoing need for the continued outpouring of charity and support to those in our midst who continue to struggle and suffer. As Jesus stated, “the poor you will always have with you” and it is our responsibility, as his followers, to alleviate their suffering and to raise our voices with theirs in asking for mercy and justice.

As the lone Samaritan, who had been healed and returned to honor his savior, so should we give thanks and praise to the God of mercy, for his mercy is given without measure or merit. Today, we give thanks to the God of mercy and justice. We do this not by our acts of charity, rather we give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable.