by Father Mike Stubbs
We have eaten the turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We have watched the football games. We may have even started to put up the Christmas decorations. But is Thanksgiving really over?
For St. Paul, it isn’t. Since we celebrated Thanksgiving just recently, it is appropriate that we hear St. Paul continue the theme of thanksgiving in Sunday’s second reading, 1 Cor 1:3-9. He writes: “I continually thank my God for you because of the favor he has bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge. Likewise, the witness I bore to Christ has been so confirmed among you that you lack no spiritual gift.”
By mentioning the gifts that the Corinthians have received from God, St. Paul is anticipating an important part of his letter, where he discusses the Corinthians’ gifts: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit. There are different forms of service but the same Lord. There are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12: 4-7).
It is significant that St. Paul describes the Corinthians’ gifts as spiritual in nature. He does not focus on physical health or intellectual abilities or monetary wealth. In part, that may be because the Corinthians did not possess those gifts in great quantity, as St. Paul notes elsewhere in his letter: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor 1:26).
In any case, St. Paul’s attention to spiritual gifts can correct the fascination with material gifts that can easily dominate us during this time of year. “What type of jewelry can I give my wife? What toys can we buy for the grandkids? What can we get for the man who has it all?”
As we approach Christmas, those questions can weigh on our minds. In their place, however, St. Paul invites us to reflect upon a different type of gift which we receive — not from other human beings, but from Almighty God. St. Paul emphasizes that it is through God’s favor that we have them — “because of the favor he has bestowed on you in Christ Jesus.”
The word translated here as “favor” can also be translated as “grace.” It means “freely given, without any obligation or requirement.” It is also a word that is related to the word for thanksgiving, both in the Greek language as well as in the Latin language. The Spanish language, directly derived from Latin, makes the relationship clear because the word for thanks, “gracias,” is the same as the word for grace.
We inherited a trace of that in the English language. For example, when we say grace before meals, we are thanking God for the food. So, when we offer thanks to God, we are acknowledging gifts freely given, without any obligation. We are recognizing God’s love for us.