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Decoding the Bible

What was Jesus thankful for?

By Janet Silman

This type of question would set off my New Testament professor. How can we presume to know the mind of Jesus? Yet it is a fruitful query upon which to muse, and Bible stories do give us some clues. Furthermore, as a faithful Galilean Jew, Jesus would have been raised celebrating harvest festivals and observing other Jewish practices of thanksgiving.

Jesus grew up in the fertile breadbasket of Palestine, known for its abundant grain, olives, grapes and orchards. As the various crops ripened over the course of the Jewish calendar year, they were celebrated with festivals replete with feasting, music-making, singing and dancing.

As the oldest child, Jesus would have been asked at the spring Passover meal, “Why do we have this ceremony?” and he would have told the story of how God liberated the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Then a few days later, he would join in the festival of presenting the first sheaf of the barley harvest to God.

In these joyful rites, gratitude for God’s saving acts in history and for the gifts of creation were interwoven in the Jewish fabric of life. Raised with these traditions, Jesus continued them throughout his ministry, partaking in the many festivals with a thankful heart.

Jesus loved a party, and was even accused of being “a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). And remember the wedding at Cana when he turned water into wine (John 2:1-12)? It seems he loved good food and fine wine, especially when sharing them in the company of friends and strangers. He liked people, having a special love for those branded as sinners by the righteous.

Evidence is that Jesus had a zest for life that held up in the hard times. In his final Passover meal, he gave thanks to God over both the bread and the wine, thanksgiving permeating his consciousness even in the most difficult situation (Luke 22:14-20).

Jesus appeared able to live in the moment, observing with reverence and joy the small wonders of creation that many were too busy or self-important to notice: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap,” he commented; and “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,” but God feeds and clothes them (Matthew 6: 26, 28). The God he served was the God mindful of small things.

Jesus took delight in children, quoting from their marketplace rhymes in one of his parables: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep” (Luke 7:32). While most adults were preoccupied with their business transactions, Jesus paid the children sufficient attention to learn their games. He welcomed them when his disciples were ready to shush them away. We can surmise that Jesus was thankful for children.

Women were not particularly valued or honoured in Jesus’ culture, certainly not in the public sphere. Yet Jesus included women in his travelling band of disciples, and as a rabbi, he taught them along with the men (Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42). He was not above having women “minister to him,” nor above having a woman labelled a sinner anoint him with expensive ointment (Luke 7:36-39). Safe to say Jesus was thankful for women.

Suffusing the stories of Jesus is the intimacy of his relationship with the Holy One. We see him withdrawing into the hills above the Sea of Galilee to pray and gain some space from the crowds. We witness him during that sleepless night in the Garden of Gethsemane, distressed and agitated, praying, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:36). “Abba” was Arabic for “papa,” signifying a relationship so close and loving, trusting and primal, that absolutely nothing was more important in Jesus’ life. Clearly, he valued his oneness with God.

Central to Jesus’ mission was his proclamation of the kingdom/kindom of God, where God’s justice and love, wholeness and peace are fully realized on earth. His ministry, his words and actions, and the community he gathered together were all signs of its coming. For the commonwealth of God — a pearl of priceless value — Jesus lived and he died. He must have been thankful for its “coming near.”

In the early church, we see the continuation of Jesus’ vision for the world, “the body of Christ on earth.” We see glimpses of this kindom whenever and wherever justice and compassion, healing and peace prevail.

For manifestations of God’s intention for human community in harmony with creation, we can believe that Jesus is thankful. His life is testimony that thanksgiving is for all times, all seasons.

Rev. Janet Silman is a minister and writer who lives on Vancouver Island.

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