Extravagant Thanksgiving

Several years ago I took a group of students on a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. On our way there we decided to take a swim in Lake Erie (a very bad idea in hindsight) to take advantage of the warm summer air in early August. While swimming and doing a few body slam baptisms, my brother-in-law and I heard the faint cries of some girls that sounded like they were in distress. I counted heads and realized that all my folks were safe. I began to look around to see where the whimpers were coming from. We saw in the distance a storm retention wall and 2 young girls that were frantically trying to escape the pummel of the waves that surged against them. We swam over in the rough surf and found two girls that had been shredded up a bit by the steel barrier as they hopelessly climbed and grasped for safety. It was apparent they were in real trouble and so we urged them to jump back into the surf and that we would help them to shore. Eventually, they let go of the wall and with the best lifeguard skills we could muster performed a rescue swim and carried them the 100 or so yards to the beach.
When we arrived, the parents hurriedly embraced their tearful children and a joyful reunion began. We stood there for a couple minutes to help them understand the situation and after a question or two we headed back into the lake. The striking thing to us however is that in all of the commotion not one person ever thanked us for our rescue.
Failing to receive a thank you is a bit off-putting for most of us. We have all felt the sting of under appreciation. Yet the reality, I fear, is that we are not so dissimilar to the family I encountered that day at the lake. We have received so much that we have failed to offer thanks for and we find ourselves strangely akin to Simon the Pharisee. The story of this man is found in Luke 7:36-49. Jesus was the invited guest of Simon to enjoy a meal and some fellowship but through a shocking interruption the dinner party was overcome with raucous commotion. As they were seated, a sinful woman, perhaps a notorious prostitute, shows up uninvited and makes a beeline for Jesus. What was she up to? Why was she heading towards him in a room filled with people? Apparently, this woman had an earlier encounter with Jesus and was forgiven her egregious sin and given the opportunity of a new life. The substantive effect of that earlier encounter had left her completely transformed and overwhelmed with gratitude for what she had received. When she burst into the door she came in and stood behind Jesus, broke open an expensive jar of perfume and began to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. The entire room was overflowing with the fragrance of her thanksgiving offering.
Simon and the other guests however began to question how Jesus could allow such a sinful woman to touch Him, particularly if he was the Messiah he was purported to be. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, offered this retort:“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said (Luke 7:41-43). After offering this antidotal story he begins to chide Simon for his lack of hospitality, and in particular, his lack of recognition and gratitude for what God had done in his own life. The story ends, as they often do in Jesus encounters, with no words. The end of the story is left up to us the hearer and bears with it a question as to how we intend to respond to the grace offered to us. Are we similar to Simon who lacked the recognition of God’s mercies that had given him the opportunity to stand among his nation’s elite religious establishment, made him a home owner, and spared him from the difficult circumstances and decisions that often lead people into sinful lifestyles. Incidentally, the vocation of prostitution in that time was a common mode of survival for the poor. Simon had received so much but failed to recognize God’s kindness in his life, particularly his offering of grace in the person of Jesus that stood before him on that day. The sinful woman, however, saw in Jesus the hope of not only forgiveness but also the opportunity for new outcomes despite the past she had known. Could it be then, that the one in the story that Jesus’ tells who owes the greatest debt is Simon the Pharisee rather than the sinful woman? He had committed an unthinkable sin by failing to recognize God in the flesh who stood before him and the mercies that he had been afforded throughout his life.
How often have we been that person that fails to recognize the great mercies of the Lord that seem to spring up daily around us? We have homes, food on our tables, healthy families, we live in a great nation, we attend an awesome church?, and we serve a God that has rescued us from a life of sin and death. Yet, like that family on the beach that day,our lives are obtuse to the price paid to bring us these blessings. God has been so good but we often fail to recognize His goodness among us. Perhaps, its time that we take a cue from this woman who was willing to break social norms and etiquette protocols to fill our world with the fragrance of our thanksgiving.

– Pastor Shane Comellas