Thanksgiving A

Last revised: October 1, 2016
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THANKSGIVING DAY A (USA; 4th Thursday in November)
RCL: Deuteronomy 8:7-18; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Resources

1. Charles Mabee, “Text as Peacemaker: Deuteronomic Innovations in Violence Detoxification,” from Violence Renounced, edited by Willard Swartley. As the title indicates, he wants to present Deuteronomy as a text that can lead us into peacemaking. He begins by noting the prominence of the Decalogue and its movement from the exclusive sovereignty of Yahweh to stipulations concerning coveting and desiring in human community.

…In other words, the Deuteronomic prescription for social solidarity and peaceful coexistence begins at this crucial point of redirecting desire toward Yawweh rather than (things of) the other (personified as the neighbor’s wife) and the property of the other (house, field, slave, ox, donkey, and the like).Presupposed here is the anthropological perspective that human beings have the capacity to “choose” Yahweh, and that this choice breaks the back of misdirected human desire. In Deuteronomic theology, this capacity to choose Yahweh is based on Yahweh’s prior choice of Israel….

…In other words, Yahweh’s choice of Israel has theological priority over the “natural” human desire of its people, and thereby becomes the key to transform their human desire from an evil into a good, or into a choice for Yahweh…. In this way, Deuteronomy can best be understood as a catechetical handbook designed to instruct the community of faith in the fundamentals of life liberated from the drive of destructive coveting and desiring which always lies embedded in the soul of human society. (pp. 73-74)

The key movement which Mabee points to is the observation at the end of Deuteronomy about Moses’ death that: “no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deut. 34:6b). What an extraordinary contrast to the prominence of the tomb in primitive religion of the Sacred! It signals in Yahwistic religion the replacement of the tomb with the text as the new center of religion. The prophet and scribe replace the priest-kings as central figures. Mabee writes:

By eliminating the tomb of its “heroic” founder and opposing the mythological Anakim [Deut. 1:28], the Deuteronomic writers in effect propose the written text as a weapon of peace (replacing the weapons of war), as the new means to effect social change. The hero forces social change based on impostion; Deuteronomy relies solely on the catechetical tools of teaching and persuasion and places the fundamental motivation of war — vengeance — out of human hands and under divine control. (p. 77)

2. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” wrote a brief essay citing this passage in 2014, “The Five Kinds of Prayer (4): Thanksgiving.”

Reflections and Questions

1. This passage follows shortly after two others that taint the fine theology of thanksgiving expressed here. This portion of Deuteronomy may be said to begin with the Shema of Deut. 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Only a few verses later we get another passage that makes the point of needing to be thankful to Yahweh for providing the Promised Land, but we also, if we have ears to hear, are alerted to the cost:

When the LORD your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you — a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant — and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deut. 6:10-12)

Why did the people of Israel not build the cities of fill the houses? Because someone already lived there, who they displaced. This is very relevant for Thanksgiving Day, because Europeans immigrating to the North American continent repeated the same kind of forced occupation of a land — and the genocide that resulted. The latter genocide was, in fact, God commanded only a few verses later:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you — and when the LORD your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. (Deut. 7:1-2)

Show no mercy. Isn’t this what happened, too, with the American idea of “Manifest Destiny”? As God-fearing people, we deserved to occupy the Promised Land — we thought. After being made aware of genocide by the Nazi Holocaust, we are increasingly aware of and repentant for our own genocide. It makes our Thanksgiving Day celebration a more sober one.

2. One of the most important recent interpretations for me personally involves Matthew’s reversal of Deut. 7 in Matthew 15. I first came upon this reading in Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change, pp. 155-158, who in turn cites an online essay by Grant LeMarquand (of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), “The Canaanite Conquest of Jesus.” Matthew gives us clues that Jesus enters the same region as the seven nations of Deut. 7:1 but is about the opposite, showing mercy. The second Joshua reverses what was done by the first Joshua. Is there a similar element in Luke’s treatment of Samaritans? More below.


2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Resources

1. N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians, pp.


Luke 17:11-19

Exegetical Notes

1. If this were Mark’s Gospel, we might take the mentions of Samaritans in Luke 10 & 17 as an inclusion since Mark is famous for that. What about Luke? Could he have an inclusion in mind here? Luke 10:25 begins with the question about the greatest commandment, to which Jesus most immediate response lifts up a Samaritan as exemplary in the second part of the greatest commandment: the “Good Samaritan” shows us how to love our neighbor. In this next mention of a Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel, isn’t this tenth leper an examplary of first part of the greatest commandment? Jesus queries, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18) And the irony of a Samaritan who knows how to truly worship God is even more pronounced than a Samaritan who knows how to love neighbor. The Jewish hatred of Samaritans stemmed from their differing worship practices. The Samaritans had it all wrong. Yet this Samaritan, in bowing down and giving thanks to Jesus, is the exemplary of true worship. How might we read all that comes in between as an inclusion?

2. Michael Hardin, at PreachingPeace.org (the “Anthropological Reading”), offers the reading of Jesus command — “Go and show yourselves to the priests” — as a plural, “priests,” that points to the differing worship practices. The nine Jewish lepers were to go to their priest; the Samaritan to his priest — thus, the plural “priests.” The Samaritan ends up choosing his priest as Jesus, modeling true worship.

3. The only other mentions of Samaritans in Luke are the Parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and as Jesus begins what in Luke is called the Journey to Jerusalem:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)

This passage is most often interpreted with a negative focus on Samaritans. My Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible, for example, titles this passage (in the footnotes) “The hostile Samaritans.” I find this to be absolutely incredible. To me the passage is clearly about the rebuke to the disciples for assuming the Samaritans to be hostile — which means modern interpretation hasn’t advanced a wit over the disciples. As Jesus turns his face to his own offering up to our engines of righteous violence, the disciples display a fundamental misrecognition of his mission in their wishing for an act of divine righteous violence upon their enemies.

In a published article, “The Work of René Girard as a New Key to Biblical Hermeneutics,” I use Luke 9:51-62 as an example of how mimetic theory can help us to correct such mistaken readings (link to excerpt on Luke 9:51-62). I argue that “they” in “they did not receive him” actual refers to the messengers, not to the Samaritans as is usually assumed. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, unbeknownst to the others, and so he changes his plans about going to the Samaritan town. The advance guard of messengers don’t receive him because he has changed his plans. The disciples wrongly assume that Jesus has changed his mind because of the Samaritans, their enemies, and wish divine fire down upon them. They coudln’t be further from the truth, and Jesus rebukes them. Supportive of this reading, in my view, are the two subsequent uses by Jesus of Samaritans as exemplifying both parts of the Great Commandment: worshiping God (17:11-19) and loving neighbor (10:25-37). (For more on Luke 9:51-56, see Proper 8C).

4. There are four times in this passage that healing is indicated, and the different words that Luke chooses to convey it are interesting. First, the two most common words used to indicate healing in the NT are iaomai and therapeuo; the NRSV, for the most part, adopted a convention of translating the first as “heal” and the second as “cure.”

In the case of these lepers, the main word that Luke uses to indicate the healing in vs. 14 & 17 is katharizo, “cleanse,” “make clean.” In between, in vs. 15, the major witnesses use the word iaomai. But there are several ancient texts that keep it consistent at this point using the word katharizo. The significance of the word choices is that Luke’s Jesus changes to a very different word for the final pronouncement, saying to the Samaritan leper in 17:19 (NRSV), “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” “Well” is the translation of the Greek word sozo, “save,” “rescue.” Especially if we take the lesser textual witnesses, Luke changes from “made clean” to “saved.” Has there been a double healing for the Samaritan? Does sozo indicate a healing, a salvation, for the Samaritan that goes beyond the initial cleansing enjoyed by all ten lepers?

Resources

1. Michael Hardin and Jeff Krantz, PreachingPeace.org. Hardin brings mimetic theory to bear upon this passage as being about the perspective of the victim. These lepers are pushed to the margins between their homelands. The one Samaritan with none Jews is even the lowest of the low. Hardin concludes:

Not only do we have a group of marginalized lepers, but that group also has its singular marginalized person, the Samaritan. Shall we suppose that the disease of leprosy so united the lepers that they no longer were engaged by the victimage mechanism? Shall we suppose that the nine Jewish lepers did not in some fashion ostracize the Samaritan within their little circle? Would their leprosy have overcome the hundreds of years of social animosity that they carried with them in their worldviews? No. This seems to be implied by Jesus’ reference to the Samaritan as an ‘allogenes’, a foreigner. The Samaritan, in other words, is the victim par excellence in the story, he is the victim of the victims, yet it is this most marginalized one who truly sees (not at all an unfamiliar theme in the gospels).When all were healed and only one returned thanking God, where did the other nine go? They made a beeline back to the social matrix from which they had been thrust, back to families they may have missed, back to the world of social respectability. They made straight for the religious dimension of the sacral mechanism, the priest, who would declare them socially acceptable. They failed to see that God, in cleansing them, had already accepted not only them, but also their fellow leper, the Samaritan. A new sociality had been given in the miracle that they failed to grasp and so they took this gift from God and walked right back to the system that had previously extruded them without seeing or understanding that something indeed was ‘bent’ about the system. Nor, as mentioned, did they see a new thing had occurred in their midst, the healing of a division that went back hundreds of years. Jesus brings healing to each of us and all of us in order that we might be one in Him. Do we see any clearer than the nine?

2. Paul Nuechterlein, The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual 2014, pp. 246-47. A Thanksgiving sermon that I’ve given at several times and places is, “Give Thanks and Be Whole.”

Reflections and Questions

1. Luke treats Samaritans in a positive light that might be worth developing for Thanksgiving Day, given the involvement of American Indians in the traditional Thanksgiving stories. European Americans came to this continent with the idea that Indians were pagans, and so were somehow deserving of our displacing them from their land (see above in the reflections on the Deut. 8 text). Jews of Jesus’s day similarly viewed Samaritans as pagans. But Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, does not seem to share that view. When the disciples want to shower fire down on Samaritans in Luke 9:54-55, Jesus rebukes them — showing the mercy that was not shown the ‘pagans’ of the Promised Land in Deut. 7 (and the Book of Joshua). Jesus uses a Samaritan as a positive example in the parable of Luke 10, and then applauds the example of the Samaritan leper in this story.

In our time, American Indians, instead of being belittled as pagans, have become positive examples of spirituality for us. A prayer of confession and thanksgiving from Chief Seattle, for example, has become part of our Thanksgiving celebration:

Creator God, we confess that we do not always remember you.
We forget that all we have and are comes from you.
We forget that the earth is our mother – we are made from the earth.
Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the children of the earth.
We are a part of the earth, and the earth is part of us.
We forget that the rivers are our brothers.
We forget that the perfumed flowers are our sisters.
We forget that the air is precious, for all of us share the same breath.
The wind gives our children the spirit of life.
We forget that the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
We forget that all things are connected, like the blood that unites one family.
We forget that you are the same God whose compassion is equal for all.
We forget that we did not weave the web of life; that we are merely a strand in it.
Forgive us, O Creator, and help us to remember that whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves.
Forgive us, and accept our thanks for your gift of life.

2. katharizo, “made clean,” is a term of sacred religion which divides the world along lines of sacred/profane, clean/unclean. When the Samaritan, instead of doing his sacred duty by going to the priest for official pronouncement of his status of purity, returns to Jesus giving thanks, is Jesus’ final pronouncement upon him referring to the fact that he has been saved from the system of ritual purity itself? His faith in Jesus has now taken him outside of the sacred system, rescuing him from its pronouncements?

On the theme of healing vs. ritual purity there is much from the viewpoint of mimetic theory during a four-week sermon series on healing from Mark’s Gospel during Epiphany 2003. It might be most poignant to begin with Mark’s story of Jesus healing a leper in Mark 1:40-45 (Epiphany 6B), which is paralleled in Luke 5:12-16 (but not part of the Year C Revised Common Lectionary).

3. What is the significance of this leper being Samaritan in terms of his religious duty to be pronounced clean? Would he have needed to go to a Jewish priest like his fellow cleansed lepers? Would he have gone to a Samaritan priest? Or is part of his returning to Jesus, forsaking the visit to the priest, due to the fact that he is a Samaritan and had different ritual requirements in the first place? In the latter case, his differing religious “faith” would have saved him the trouble of needing to do what the other nine Jewish lepers needed to do. (See Michael Hardin‘s reading in note 2 of the Exegetical Notes.)

4. “When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.'” What is Jesus doing here? In other stories of Jesus healing lepers, he makes a big show of bucking the purity system by even touching them when he heals them. And there’s nothing about showing oneself to the priest. Here, it seems he keeps his distance, merely calling to them to go show themselves to the priests. He seems to be going along with the purity system. But, upon being made clean, the Samaritan forsakes that system to immediately come back to thank his healer and to praise God. Is his leaving behind the purity system the point of this story? True faith goes beyond the sacred system of clean and unclean to find a compassionate God who truly can make us “well.” But, in that case, why does Jesus tell them to follow the purity system in the first place? Was his telling them to go the priests a test of sorts to see which ones had enough faith to forsake the purity system in favor of the truer, more complete source of healing, one which saves us from the ill effects of the purity system itself? In that case, it’s significant that only the Samaritan, only the one that Jews considered as religiously inferior, was able to pass this test of true religion. Only the one designated as the outsider was able to escape the dis-ease of playing games of insiders and outsiders.

5. If the purity system itself is cause for dis-ease, then the Samaritan was the only one in need of a double cure from it. He was unclean both by virtue of being a leper and by being a Samaritan; his fellow lepers were only unclean in terms of their leprosy. The priest could pronounce the lepers cleansed of their disease, but they would not pronounce the Samaritan clean of his being a Samaritan. Only Jesus, the one who would expose the dis-ease of the sacred system itself, would pronounce the Samaritan’s second cleansing, a pronouncement that effectively declares his having been rescued from the system itself. Jesus would let himself be judged unclean in order that the veil would be rent in two that keeps us from seeing the emptiness of the sacred system.

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