The first Thanksgiving Day and its successive observances have been both a source of delight and sorrow to many people. It seems, however, that we have been left mostly with delight. Thanksgiving has been turned into revelry, prayer into pride. It has become a day of feasting and football games with church services sandwiched in between.
If we stop and reflect, however, upon that first Thanksgiving Day, one is left with a very sobering thought. These people, the Pilgrims, were poor, financially poor; and poorer still, not only financially but intellectually and spiritually, were their Indian friends. But these people were giving thanks to God for His blessings and grace. The poor were giving thanks. But, that is not my concern in this article. It is obvious to most that the poor do give thanks, but is it just as obvious that we give thanks for the poor? Do we count them as one of our blessings? Or are the poor poorer still on Thanksgiving Day because they are forgotten? The poor are obviously here for a reason, and they will always be with us as Christ had to remind his disciples. Ours, then is to evaluate our attitude toward them, especially in the Thanksgiving period when we set aside a special day to thank God for all things.
Before, however, we can thank God for the presence of poor people, it would be well if we find out just exactly who these poor people are. Are they, for example, limited to those starving hordes in Asia and Africa or are they right among us, probably sitting next to us on Sunday morning. Just exactly, then, whom does Christ wish to include in his concept of “the poor”?
The thought that immediately comes to mind is that these people are the financially poor; they lack material goods and the resource to acquire them. Undoubtedly this is true. And, we certainly have evidence of these poor today. Not only in underprivileged nations but right here in America. Maybe, it could even be the fellow who sits next to us in church on Sunday. We still have “Indians” today who have little more than a breechcloth.
But perhaps Christ wishes to include more than just the financially poor. Could he also mean the socially poor, those people who lack the wherewithal to move in social circles. Perhaps He wishes to include in His concept of “the poor” to those people who not only cannot afford to move in our society but also those who lack the physical and mental makeup to do so. They are shy, withdrawn, quiet and contemplative rather than loquacious and expressive. These poor are also with us today. Some “Indians” prefer to stand at the edge of the woods and look on from without at the gay celebration.
We have, furthermore, still other kinds of poor people. How about the spiritually poor? We know that we have the spiritually dead, but how about the spiritually poor? Those children of God who perhaps could be called “Sunday Christians,” those, perhaps, who have only a minimum of interest in the furthering of God’s cause, those who lack knowledge of God and His creation and seem to fret little about it, are they still with us today? Do we still have sleeping Christians in times like these? Pathetic cases, you say, but very real. Some “Indians” are always out hunting for gold rather than truth.
Possibly another kind of poor whom Christ wishes to include are the intellectually poor. Some are so by choice, others by design. Some people even today lack all desire to increase their knowledge of their Creator and His creation, others lack the ability to do so. Some “Indians” must be made to run the gauntlet, others must build canoes.
We could continue citing still more different types of “Indians” but I will leave it up to you to fill out the list. The point is, the poor are still with us. How, then are we going to react to them? What are we going to say? My answer is contained in my title for this article. It is simply this: Give Thanks! But, you say, positively ridiculous. Who is going to give thanks to God for someone who is barely interested in our truth? Who is going to thank God for those who seek themselves rather than the good of others? Who is going to give thanks for dullards? But, I say, we must give thanks for otherwise we lost sight of the entire and true meaning of Thanksgiving, for now we give thanks to God, for things, yes, but primarily for His love toward u. But it does no stop there. We may not squander that love. We must not exclude these “Indians” from our Thanksgiving tables. That love is now in us to shed abroad to our fellow saints. The poor need our love, desperately. They need our admonition, encouragement, gifts. They need to know that we care enough about their spiritual and material welfare so much that we do more than remember them in our prayers, we act. We perform acts of love and mercy toward them, we do admonish, we do encourage, we do give gifts because we love them. This, too, is part of Thanksgiving.
True thanksgiving, then, is more than confession, more than dogma and theory, it includes those works, those acts of love, which must flow forth from our being, attesting to the fact that God’s love is in us. Thanksgiving is more than an expression of faith, thanksgiving is work.
Therefore, I say again, give thanks for the poor, give thanks to God that we may manifest to others His love in our hearts. Give thanks for the poor for by so doing we thank our Lord and Savior for “the great love wherewith He hath loved us.”
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 7 November 1970