Grace Around the Thanksgiving Table

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At church yesterday, I had conversations similar to ones I have every year at Thanksgiving, conversations beginning with some variation of: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

One woman who had surgery only last week was looking forward to her siblings all being at her house for the first time since her sister passed away. They are gathering at four so she can have plenty of time to make her homemade rolls. Another plans to drive an hour or more to her niece’s house for “the big family Thanksgiving.” A friend, who is spending her first Thanksgiving as a widow, is to meet her sisters at a local restaurant that opens for a few hours midday on Thanksgiving Day.

In Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, Freedom from Want, relatives young and old talk with one another while the smiling grandfather stands beside his plump wife as she places the perfect turkey on the table. Though the painting does include Rockwell’s wife, his mother, and himself, the others are friends and neighbors who served as models. The “grandmother” is the Rockwell’s family cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton.

Rockwell painted Freedom from Want in November 1942. It was first published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943. I love Norman Rockwell’s paintings and included a biography of him in America the Beautiful. Freedom from Want is one of my favorites. Wouldn’t you love to be sitting down at that table on Thursday! However, I imagine that the painting has probably put a great deal of pressure on a lot of people, perhaps especially women who wish their Thanksgiving gathering looked like that and are sorry that it doesn’t really.

Though a turkey can be perfect, a family can’t be perfect. Thanksgivings can’t be perfect either for the same reason. They can’t be perfect because we are people. Sometimes it takes a lot of grace and forgiveness and patience and compassion to sit at a Thanksgiving table.

Yesterday, as Ray continued to preach through the book of Luke, he taught us from Luke 7:36-50. A meal is the setting of this incident in the life of Jesus. A Pharisee named Simon has invited Jesus to come to his house for a meal. After Jesus came into his house and reclined at the table, a woman whom the Pharisee definitely did not invite came into the room. She stood beside Jesus and cried. She wet His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume she brought.

This slide of a painting by William Hole (1846-1917) is in the collection of the Library of Congress. It has this caption: “Luke 7:36-50. At the house of Simon the Pharisee, He rejecteth not the love and service of a sinful woman, but rather forgiveth her.”

Jesus responded to the condemning thoughts Simon had when he saw the woman. Simon thought that if Jesus was really a prophet he would have known that this woman touching him was a sinner.

Jesus told Simon a parable about a moneylender who canceled the debts of one debtor who owed him 500 denarii and another who owed him 50. Jesus asked Simon which of the two debtors would love the moneylender more. Simon said that he assumed the one who had owed more would love him more. Jesus told him that he had judged correctly.

Jesus talked to Simon about the differences in the way he had treated Jesus that day and the way the woman had treated Him. Simon had been a rude host. He had not even given Jesus water to wash His feet, yet the woman had wet them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Simon had not given Jesus a kiss of greeting, yet she had kissed His feet. Simon had not anointed His head with oil, yet she had anointed His feet with perfume. Jesus told Simon:

“For this reason I say to you,
her sins, which are many, have been forgiven,
for she loved much;
but the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”
And He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 
And then those who were reclining at the table with Him
began saying to themselves,
“Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 
And He said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:47-50

May God bless you this week with a Thanksgiving filled with grace, forgiveness, patience, and compassion.

Be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving each other,
just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:32


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