The history of Thanksgiving cannot be told without the role of “neighbor.” That first meal is iconic because it so embraces the concept of “neighbor” with all the good and bad aspects. Neighbor often refers to the new and different from “us,” even as the Indigenous Tribes were so different from those strangers on their shores, those Pilgrims. I know we debate today about some of the ethical ramifications of what unfolded as the years unfolded but that first meal embodies “neighbor.” Those coming to the American borders today are in many ways just as dissimilar to us as we were to the indigenous people then. It’s part of the American identity. History will decide if we are a “toss salad” or a “melting pot.” Neighborliness is not just blessing those that we like but it is also making space for the “other” who is different from us.
Jesus tells the story to a young lawyer who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus flips the question back on him. The man shares the Golden Rule, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He answers correctly so he continues by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten up by thieves and left to die. Three men of his tribe walked on by. A man from the “other tribe” stopped, helped and cared. So Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.”
Thanksgiving is about being a neighbor, about showing mercy to those no matter how different they are from us. Neighbors don’t see skin color differences, economic differences, age differences, or generational differences.
The Gospel of Mark tells it this way, “32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
As we begin to prepare for Thanksgiving let us think of people whom we may not have known well but who blessed us. Perhaps it was an affirmation from a teacher. Perhaps a friend called at just the right time. Perhaps it was the gift of a smile when you were discouraged. The stranger who stopped and helped you change a tire. There are about 10 days till Thanksgiving. See if you can give 10 people you do not know a smile each day and lighten their load. Blessings.