Grateful for Something Even Larger Than Life Itself: A 2020 Thanksgiving Day Reflection

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many of us are going to have a different kind of holiday today. Different from what we may be accustomed to or different from what we might prefer. Coronavirus has done that to us… and so much more.

Not too long ago, my mom had to get used to life without my dad. They had been married for 63 years. Then, not so long after that, my mom had to get used to living in a nursing home. And then, not so long after that, she had to adjust to living in a nursing home during a total and complete pandemic lock down. She is allowed one visit each week for a total of 30 minutes. That’s it. And it has been that way for the past eight months. For most of that time, she was allowed no visitors at all. She isn’t allowed to leave her room. She hasn’t seen her grandchildren in person during this time. She can’t play with her great grandchildren, of which she now has five. She told me last night that she misses holding our hands. She misses human touch.

We try to keep hope alive for her. We talk to her about the coming vaccines and the fact that the end of the pandemic is nearing, God-willing, soon. We tell her that young Max and Ava, Gabriel and Sienna, and Rosemarie can’t wait to climb up onto her again while she laughs hysterically. We tell her that we are going to hold her hand and that no one is going to tell us we can’t. It’s all about hope.

Now, leprosy is a cruel disease. Those afflicted lose all sensation in their fingertips and other parts of their bodies as this disease eats away at nerve endings. In Jesus’ time, those who became infected were immediately separated from their families and disconnected completely and radically from everything in their lives. Back then, there was no forthcoming vaccine. This was a permanent quarantine. You were in an everlasting lock down. There was no hope. Leprosy is a very cruel disease.

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus heals ten lepers. Only one came back to acknowledge the healing. To say thank you. Jesus asked the one who returned a very pointed question: “Where are the other nine?”

Where are the other nine?

It’s easy to think about those nine as ungrateful and selfish, but for them, hope had been suddenly and quite dramatically restored. They could immediately return to their families, to their lives, something that seemed completely impossible just minutes before. I think about my mom after the pandemic ends. About how she is going to feel when that happens.

“The other nine”… returned to their lives. What overwhelming joy they must have felt. Yet they never stopped to thank God.

The one who returned, the one who Jesus describes as “saved” is more than simply grateful in this story. He is also insightful. He has a greater understanding of what is actually happening here. And we reflect upon this today, on Thanksgiving, because it gives us an excellent clue into that which we should be most grateful for: the possibility of salvation. Eternal life. The opportunity to follow Jesus… not just today… but forever.

We should ask ourselves: when in our own lives have we been like the other nine?

When have we been so overwhelmed… whether by joy or sorrow… blessing or curse… consolation or desolation… certainty or fear… that we forget about the source of all gifts and that which matters most of all? Life is a gift, but we all seek something even larger than life itself.

Imagine how it’s going to feel when all this is over. When kids can go back to school without even thinking about it and adults can go back into work. When we can shop at malls and eat inside restaurants. When we can put the masks away and those round stickers everywhere telling us where to stand can be retired for good. When we can see the big, great action movie in a theater again. When we can have a holiday meal all jammed together around a full and festive table. When we don’t have to live with this constant fear of infection. When we can hug and give each other high fives. When we can hold hands. When those who are alone and closed up can emerge from out of their confinement. When five young children can climb all over their 94 year old great grandmother again.

All these things will be amazing. It will be so great to get back to our lives again.

But let’s not be… the other nine.

Let’s be… the one who is grateful for what really matters.

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