KEVIN LEININGER: This is indeed the day to give thanks; just don’t do it the wrong way

As Americans pause to give thanks today, will they do it for the right reasons? (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

Depending on the translation, “thanks” or some variation of the word appears in the Bible about 140 times. And as you might expect, most are appropriate themes for a holiday Abraham Lincoln established in 1863 as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent father.”

Yet somehow I’m drawn to perhaps the only verse in Scripture that actually condemns giving thanks to God — if it’s done for the wrong reason. Perhaps that makes Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector the most profound Thanksgiving text of all.

The passage in Luke about the Pharisee and tax collector who had gone to the temple to pray is familiar to most Christians: The Pharisee stood and thanked God that he was “not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector, on the other hand, stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast and prayed: “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

But it was the tax collector, Christ taught, not the outwardly righteous man, who went home justified before God.

Is it appropriate to thank God today and always for his physical blessings? Of course. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” begins the common table prayer drawn from 1st Chronicles. But if you’ll forgive the parochial reference, Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism explanation of the Lord’s Prayer that “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

That tax collector, reviled by society, did realize and confess his undeserved need for God’s grace and was blessed for it. The Pharisee, grateful for his own goodness and generosity, was not.

How tempting it is for us to be equally smug and self-righteous. With even some churches preaching a bogus “prosperity gospel,” some are convinced their wealth is proof of God’s favor, just as poverty illustrates God’s judgment. Others, coveting the supposedly undeserved possessions of others, forget to give thanks for what they do have.

How many Americans today give thanks because they are not like somebody else? If the political climate (even around some Thanksgiving tables) is any indication, the number is disturbingly large — and growing. It’s no longer enough simply to disagree about policy; opponents’ motives, intelligence and character must also be questioned, and cruel epithets applied whenever possible. One side condemns the others’ sins while reveling in its own righteousness. But that kind of thanks isn’t gratitude at all; it’s narcissism.

More than any politician today, Lincoln had reason to hate his political adversaries. And yet, in the middle of a civil war that claimed more than 600,000 lives, his thanksgiving proclamation acknowledged “bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come . . . They are the gracious gifts of the most high God who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

That mercy often goes unnoticed or is even scorned because God’s greatest gifts cannot be seen, counted or hoarded. That reality is so foreign to our prideful human nature that we need to be reminded of it as often as possible. When they read that passage from Luke at my funeral, I may not hear it — but others will.

Hopefully, they will see themselves in the tax collector, as I do, and give thanks for such undeserved, amazing grace. But why wait? This is the perfect day to start.

Quid? Quo?

In Tuesday’s column I wrote about how the administration of Mayor Tom Henry has asked the Capital Improvement Board for $37.8 million toward construction of four downtown projects: Ruoff Home Mortgage’s $43.5 million headquarters, two projects by Barrett & Stokely of Indianapolis costing a total of more than $156 million and a $21 million mixed-use project on a city-owned lot near Parkview Field that would include a parking garage to in part accommodate Ruoff employees.

But I ran out of room before I could add a couple of facts I reported previously but take on new interest in light of the city’s funding request.

Barrett & Stokely contributed $2,000 to Henry’s successful re-election campaign, according to pre-election reports filed with the county. Ruoff CEO Mark Music contributed $5,000.

Nothing illegal or inherently improper about any of that, but with quid pro quo (something for something) fast becoming Washington, D.C.’s favorite phrase, the public deserves the facts.

I report, you decide.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.