Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Year C

Thanksgiving Day C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

(See also First Sunday in Lent C)  Robert Alter writes that this excerpt near the conclusion of the Book of Deuteronomy is "the first full-fledged liturgy in the Torah, to be recited by each Israelite farmer." (The Five Books of Moses,  New York: W.W.Norton, 2004, p. 1004)  Each person is instructed to bring a portion of each harvest "to the place that the  Lord your God choose to make His name dwell there."  The text then provides a creed to be recited, which recalls their ancestors, wandering and on the verge of starvation, but "made a mighty and multitudinous nation."  Taken into slavery, but freed by the Lord, "he brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey."  The instructions continue that the worshiper is to place his offering before the Lord your God, bow and "rejoice in all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you and your household."  But the liturgy s not complete until "the alien who resides among you" joins in the celebration.

The psalmist declares where, how and why we owe thanks: "Shout" thanks before the Lord in song because the Lord "made us, and we are his people."

In this very personal letter to the church in Philippi, Paul prompts his readers to "Rejoice in the Lord always...."  For emphasis, he repeats, "again I say, Rejoice."  Do not worry, know that the Lord is near and God's peace "will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."  "Keep on doing the things that you have received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."

On the day after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people from just five loaves of bread and two fish, the crowds have followed him to the other side of the lake.  Their motive, John writes, is more food.  But Jesus enjoins them to think of another kind of "food,"  a "food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you."  What proof can you give us, the crowd ask, because in the wilderness "our ancestors ate the manna...."  But Jesus distinguishes the source; it was not Moses who gave them the food, but "it was my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven."  When they ask for "this bread," Jesus replies: "I am the bread of life."  He continues: "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."   

The liturgical rubrics and creed in Deuteronomy inculcate a narrative about immigrants who come from nothing but who now enjoy prosperity and a national identity because "your God has given you"  all you need.  It includes a fitting moral injunction-- therefore, include all the immigrants in your land in your celebration because you were once aliens and without a nation, too.  The psalmist notes a the singular cause for her thanksgiving: the Lord made us and we are the Lord's!

At the 1997 Villanova University conference, "God, the Gift and Postmodernism" organized by John Caputo, Fr. Richard Kearney interviewed Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion on the centrality of "the gift" to their work.  At one point in that interview Derrida decided to summarize Marion's approach this way: I have to come "to interpret as a gift everything... that we meet in perception, given to my intuition."  He continued: "I perceive this; it is not a given.  I did not produce this.  I did not create this....  the finite subject does not create its object, it receives it, receptively.  Receptivity is interpreted as precisely the situation if the created being, the creature, which receives everything in the world as something created.  So it is a gift.  Everything is a gift."

If I join this narrative--"Everything is a gift."-- it leads me to discover a wholly new understanding of who I am, how I got to where I am, and my relationship to others.  It might be just a slight shift in perspective, but it alters my viewpoint totally.

John's gloss on Jesus' miraculously feeding well over 5,000 people is really an invitation to accept and live inside a world view that I m a recipient as well as a source of generosity to others.  The math in the miracle story is intentionally outlandish and literally does not add up because the message and Person of Jesus is to give us the gift of discovering that "Everything is a gift."  This is the "true bread" which, if received, means you will never be "hungry" again.  John's gospel is not as esoteric as it is sometimes made out to be.  He is expressing explicitly the truth the other gospel writers leave implicit:  the enduing gift in the miraculous feeding of thousands from next to nothing is not the bread and fish they received (after all, they will be hungry again in a few hours); rather, it is in the knowledge, which Jesus tells them about and embodies in his fate that allows them to discover that they are recipients of a God who is generous before they ever realized it.

This is the biblical narrative.  "Rejoice in the bounty God has given you."