The Spirit of Gratitude: An Essential Aspect of Our Full Humanity

The gospel reading for yesterday in the Eastern Orthodox Church was the parable of the ungrateful vineyard workers – Matthew 21.33-42. It is a story of the tragic effects of ingratitude toward the owner of the vineyard by those whom he has hired to work in his vineyard. The hatred toward the owner by the workers is “taken out on” those whom the owner sends to collect the harvest. They beat one, killed another, and stoned yet another. In our nice, orderly, and civilized American society, the scene of public beatings and killings are chilling – riots with fatal beatings caught on tape for the world to see. And stoning? Well, that is in class of horror all its own.

Without gratitude, our humanity begins to slowly disappear. The human spirit is infested with the spirits of resentment, entitlement, and perpetual discontent.

All of these thoughts were very sobering and cautionary as I read the homily by St. Nikolai based on the gospel pericope. Let me share just the part on gratitude with a couple of Scriptural passages that speak of the importance of gratitude.

“There is nothing in this world uglier than ingratitude, nothing more insulting or soul-destroying. What can be uglier than when a man suppresses and conceals a good work done to him? And what is uglier than when a man returns mercilessness for mercy, faithlessness for faithfulness, dishonor for honour and mockery for good? Such ingratitude draws a black cloud between the ungrateful on the one hand and the most pure Eye from heaven – that is light without the admixture and goodness without the admixture of evil – on the other… In this world, gratitude receives its true, divine radiance and ingratitude its destructive ugliness, only in man – only in the human race. No single other living creature in the world is capable of such gratitude or ingratitude as man. The most grateful man is the closest to perfection. His gratitude to all God’s creatures around him makes him the finest citizen of this star-studded universe. Gratitude towards men makes him the first citizen of human society; gratitude towards the Creator of the universe and towards men makes him a worthy citizen of the Kingdom of God.” Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, pg.127-128

The Psalmist knew the essential character of gratitude. He issues transformative invitations to you and me that are both encouraging and exhortive:

Psalm 95

[1] O come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
[2] Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
[3] For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
[4] In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
[5] The sea is his, for he made it;
for his hands formed the dry land.
[6] O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
[7] For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would hearken to his voice!
[8] Harden not your hearts, as at Mer’ibah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
[9] when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
[10] For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways.”
[11] Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest.

Psalm 100  

[1] Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands!
[2] Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
[3] Know that the LORD is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
[4] Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
[5] For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Listen to the admonition of St. Paul: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3.14-17

The Church has, during course of its daily worship life, taken St. Paul’s admonition seriously — “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness” — and adopted Psalms 95 and 100 among other canticles, as its way of encouraging and training believers on the right way to begin the day. We must make a right beginning to each and every day. That beginning is by voicing our gratitude to God for all things. It makes a difference not only in how we relate to Him during the day. It makes a difference in how we end up treating other the people we encounter as well.

Fr. Thomas


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