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The importance of humility in thanksgiving | Word Alive

Stephanie Blaquera

Friday, October 15, 2021

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The importance of humility in thanksgiving

A reflection for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

by Stephanie Blaquera

In this Sunday's readings, from the first reading to the Alleluia, we are reminded that we should see the world through the lens of humble gratitude.
“Thanks be to God.”
“Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”
“The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our brokenness is mended through the love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. When we are reminded of such blessings, how can we not be thankful? Personally, I go through waves of gratitude. And sometimes the biggest struggle for me is not only how can I stay thankful, but how can I stay thankful in a state of humility? It is no coincidence (but a God-incidence) that the structure of today’s readings mirrors that of the post-Thanksgiving fear that we will forget to be humbly grateful, that we will turn, or return, to a “prideful heart” with “haughty eyes”. This will not always be intentional. Sometimes it can occur subconsciously as with James and John in this Sunday’s Gospel reading.
At first glance, the term “humble gratitude” seems redundant. But humility needs to be emphasized because although one can be grateful for the service of others, one may neglect the value of the other. “Humble gratitude” increases the valuation of others. It acknowledges that we are not more special or more significant than other people. Humble gratitude acknowledges that we are not made singularly. In a neighbourly sense, we are made for community; if one succeeds, we all succeed; if one fails, we all fail. In a spiritual sense, humble gratitude acknowledges that we are made and always cared for by God. Humble gratitude acknowledges that “I cannot do this without you, so thank you for helping me.”
Gratitude in itself should have humility embedded in its meaning. However, that is not always the case. So often we skip to the "thank you for helping me" clause without realizing how significant the first part is: "I cannot do this without you." This oversight decreases the value of the other (the “you”) and increases the value of the self (the “me”). With this dwindled humility, we risk entering dangerous territory: the state of entitlement. We risk becoming like James and John the time they approached Jesus with a special request:
"Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, James and John illustrate how easily one can perceive Jesus – and by extension, God the Father – as a genie-like figure.
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
With the numerous miracles they had witnessed, it would have been easy to view Him as a higher being who grants wishes or takes requests. But this is a simplistic understanding of our complex Lord. Still, we sometimes use this measurement to prove His credibility, intentions, or even His existence. If my requests are not met, is Jesus really the Son of God? Does God really exist? And if He does, what kind of God is He? What kind of God lets evil things happen, even when He has the power to intervene? It is this self-centred perspective that drags us down into the state of entitlement. It is here that we try to condition God. Just like a genie, although He is omnipotent, we try to shackle Him and mentally confine Him in a very small space (one our limited human minds can comprehend) and hope to make Him yield to our will. We allow Him to exist only on our terms.
After hearing James and John’s request, Jesus professes to them that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Having been born in a manger and raised humbly, Jesus did not desire to be great among his people; he wanted to journey with them. It was James and John who inadvertently put Jesus up on a pedestal, “first among [everybody]”. They put him in a box, expecting Him to be their servant.
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
With his patience, he reminds them – and us – that “the Son of Man did not come to be served” because he did not see himself as better than the people around him. Instead he aimed “to serve [others] and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Reflecting on Jesus’ teachings, servitude, and sacrifice, how can we not be thankful? Or better question: how can we be thankful?
The answer: with Jesus-like humility.
We are called to think less ego-focused, focusing more on God and others, reminding ourselves that we, alone, cannot live without God and other people. We must let our humility merge with our gratitude because only then will our gratitude become an expression of love. So let us continue to love through our humble gratitude. Let it not end with the season of Thanksgiving, but allow it to extend to the rest of our days. We are called to always be humbly grateful but not to stop there. Let our humble gratitude transform into acts of almsgiving, just as the Lord taught us through his life. Let our humble gratitude not only be a reflective journey, but also let it be the catalyst to our call to action, reminding us that we cannot do anything without our Lord and our neighbours, and our service will be our "thank you".

The readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, are
Isaiah 53:10-11
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

Stephanie Blaquera is Production Assistant for Salt + Light Media.

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