The saint is first and foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having loved or let God love.
I am using this quote to guide my homily today since as it helps me to articulate what is more subtly expressed in todays gospel. It is thanksgiving weekend after all and the theme of thanksgiving might not be readily drawn out from the readings or from the Lord’s teaching on what is needed in order to enter, as He says, “the kingdom of God.”
The teaching in question comes from an encounter that Jesus has with a rich man who is said to have had “many possessions.” He seeks, and it seems sincerely so, to get an answer from Jesus regarding what he must do to inherit eternal life – to receive eternal life as an inheritance from God. He seems implicitly, or at least by his language, to understand that to receive such from God, he must live as a son. Maybe this point will become more poignant as we look a little more closely at the response given by the only begotten Son of God; by Jesus. He, as the Son, knows what is necessary and He always gives complete thanksgiving to God.
The man asks a sincere question of Jesus and we must assume that he does so to get a good answer. Jesus seems to know him – as he knows everyone – and so he says to him, “you know the commandments…” The man affirms that he does know them by saying that he has “kept all these since [his] youth”. It is then that the striking and telling moment of encounter happens. Jesus, we are told, “looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” What a striking demand the Lord makes on this man. What to me is maybe most important is that the man does not recognize in this invitation from Jesus, that he is being offered a gift. It is almost as if the man, at that point (in his shock), says ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ This is also why he goes away grieving. It is as if he knows he is being offered and invited to something greater and profound but, because of his possessions, he cannot do it.
What does he fail to accept? God’s particular and deepest love for him. How do we know this – he is unwilling to give of himself, he will not trust God with any more or admit his indebtedness through gratitude there. He is, as a result, unable to give thanks to God with his whole life – some of it, he feels, he must keep for himself for his own glory – no thanks to God. He is unable to be truly poor in spirit, which is or course a challenge for all of us! Look then at the example of the disciples who have ‘left everything and followed” Jesus thereby making a complete gift of themselves to God! Is this not the deepest expression of thanksgiving?
When we are truly thankful for someone’s gift to us we make careful and considerate use of that gift in reference to the giver and to their intention. We cannot divide the gift from giver – especially the larger or more profound the gift. Do we not in a certain way acknowledge this connection when we are upset at someone when we have given them a gift and they have misused it? A few simple examples might suffice to demonstrate this. For instance, a simple one that immediately comes to mind for me is when I was ordained, one of my best friends growing up gave me a 30 year old bottle of port. It was a wonderful gift! Guess who I drank it with? I purposefully arranged a dinner with him and his wife so that I could share the gift with them. I understand now, looking back, that that was an important expression on my part of the thanksgiving and gratitude I had not only for the gift but for the giver of the gift as well. Another important place where this can been understood is in marriage. One’s fidelity or faithfulness to their spouse is deeply related to a recognition of the profound gift that they have personally received from their spouse (body and soul!). One’s faithfulness in body and soul towards their spouse is a way of expressing their gratitude towards their spouse and their recognition of the gravity of the gift that their spouse has given in giving their life. On top of all this, if a husband or wife is ungrateful for their spouse, the giver of such a gift and the gift of self that they have made, then he or she will also not be willing to give of themselves either, to offer their own body and soul as a gift to their spouse. How beautiful when gratitude exists in every relationship! What happens is we make a gift of ourselves, sharing our heart with another and, if they receive us in gratitude, what we share with them, they will respect the gift plus the one from whom it came – the giver. By their gratitude they will also sincerely and gently give back to me myself and be moved to give of themselves in return – to reciprocate. Notice what Jesus expresses of those who have given up everything for the sake of Christ – if, in gratitude you have given up everything to follow Jesus, guess what? you will receive a hundredfold! from God in return.
Jesus is the fullest and most complete embodiment of this reality. It is He, the only begotten Son, who has made a complete gift of self to the Father in thanksgiving. Jesus, by doing so, expresses the greatest of gratitude towards God the Father – fully acknowledging God’s goodness and the profound generosity of the giver. Jesus also, in living faithfully and generously towards the Father, not only abides in the Father’s great love but He also respects the gift(s) that the Father has bestowed upon Him and is considerate of the Father who gives them!
To me, this is one of the striking differences in the gospel today – Jesus attempts to lead the rich man to a greater recognition and appreciation of God’s love for him but he is unwilling or unable to express gratitude for what he has received as gift and from whom he has received. What is the result? Grieving. Sadness. The rich man is unable to be open to the generous love of God for him and to fully be gracious and thankful for that love. He will receive no more than what he has because he is closed to anything more – closed to the invitation of Jesus, to a greater treasure.
It is no accident I think that as our society has become wealthier we have moved further from God’s love and the gratitude and thankfulness that would follow from an honest recognition of the profound generosity of God. It is almost as if people know implicitly that if I acknowledge God’s goodness and generosity, for all that I have and all that I am in my life, that I will realize there is a subsequent invitation to acknowledge through how I use these gifts and respect the intention and love of the giver. It might be easier to avoid this and be ungrateful – but it is also a source of misery for us. Gratitude is a source of great joy for us and yet it demands that we acknowledge, through our living, that we owe everything to God. The crazy thing is that we would rather stop the exchange, take what we have been given and run from the one who has given it – never to have to acknowledge their generosity but also never to receive fully from them again. How isolating and sad a reality is that? Especially when Jesus, like with the rich man, invites us to be open to receiving even more through God’s abounding love and generosity.
I return to the opening quote again. “The Saint is first stand foremost the one who renders constant thanks for having been loved and who never forgets the misery of once not having been loved or let God love.” This is the beautiful life: The one lived in trusting and generous relationship with the Father of all good gifts! This is the life of joy and intimacy whereby we can never to outdo God in His generosity!