Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gratitude: Point

In my last post Gratitude: Pause I suggested that gratitude is our willingness to pause from the enjoyment of the gift to express gratitude to the giver.  This post continues my reflections on Luke 17:11-19.

I feel this post deserves a warning.  It's a bit deeper than any of my other posts.  I'll delve into Greek a bit (though I'll spare you the boring details). There is a path of logic I'll lead you along that I think is worth the journey, but it will take some mental engagement.  The point I'm making is clear (I hope) but not necessarily obvious from the outset.  So now that I've scared away most potential readers, on with the post.

When Jesus heals ten lepers in Luke 17, only one returns to say thank you.  In response, Jesus says to the grateful man who kneels before him, "Your faith has made you well." (NIV).  I'm dissatisfied with that translation.

The New Testament is written in Greek.  Our English versions are all translations, which is wrought with difficulty.  There is never a one-to-one correspondence between two languages.  Words in one language usually have a different range of meaning in another language.  In translating, it can be tricky figuring out the author's intent and how best to convey that in another language.  One tool that can help determine the author's intent in using a word or phrase in one context is by comparing to with another context where the author uses the same word or phrase.  Such is the case with Luke 17.

Luke has recorded this exact phrase ("Your faith has made you well") on the lips of Jesus earlier in the book.  In Luke 7, Jesus is anointed with perfume by a woman of sordid reputation.  The religious folk object, looking down their noses at this sinful woman and her extravagant display.  Jesus counters that those forgiven much love much - the self righteous have a polite affection for Jesus; this woman has a desperate love.  Jesus turns his attention to this societal cast off and says to her "Your sins are forgiven" and follows it up with this loaded phrase - "You faith has saved you" (Luke 7:48).  This phrase is, word for word, what Jesus says to another societal castoff ten chapters later, a leper.

This linguistic parallel is regrettably not evident in the English translations.  While the incident in Luke 7 is clearly a case of a sinful woman in need of "saving," this story in Luke 17 is in the context of physical healing, and so the translators assume that Luke has this in mind.  In that sense, "you're faith has made you well" fits perfectly.

But keep in mind that this is what Jesus says exclusively to the thankful one, not the afflicted ten.    All ten, after all, are healed.  Doesn't it follow that what Jesus offers the one grateful leper should go a step beyond that healing? In this sense, "you're faith has saved you" is a much better translation.  All ten share in the being made well.  But this one is offered something special - something offered ten chapters earlier to a broken woman.  Salvation - not merely from leprosy, but from sin.  It's through the healing that this man discovers the true nature of his malady.  Physical leprosy was destroying his body, spiritual leprosy was destroying his soul.  He had just encountered the great physician for whom healing his skin disease was akin to basic first aid.  This was a surgeon whose scalpel could heal the soul.  All ten are cleansed (Luke 17:14); but only one is saved (Luke 17:19).

So if you've followed me this far, we're ready for the payoff.  This is the second lesson that this text teaches me about gratitude; a lesson as subtle as the first was blatant.  The first was that gratitude is the willingness to pause from the enjoyment of the gift to express gratitude to the giver.  The second is this - God's gifts are pointing us to something greater.   He wants to use things that are temporal as giant pointers toward things eternal.  The gift of healing was intended to point them to a greater healing.

God has been gracious to me.  In this moment I have much to enjoy.  A warm fire glowing in our fireplace, a beautiful view out our sliding door of the tail end of autumn, a hot cup of English Breakfast tea I just brewed, a computer that allows me to edit all my first draft slop, a brownie I'm nibbling on left over from dinner with good friends last night.  It's all good.  But it's not complete.  In a few moments I'll have to leave for work. I'll leave behind the markers of serenity for a frantic shift at the store.  I want more.

My appetite for these moments of joy is stronger than what these moments can deliver.  I delight in them all, but I was made for more.  They last for a moment, or even a span, but they're not eternal. They are pointing beyond themselves to something greater, reminders that this is an appetite only eternity can satisfy.

In C.S. Lewis' autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he describes his pursuit of stabs of joy, moments of overwhelming pleasure and satisfaction.  They were good, but short lived.  He ends his book this way.  "But what, in conclusion of joy?  For that, after all, is what they story has been mainly about.  Those stabs of joy were only valuable as a pointer to something other and outer.  While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed larger in my thoughts.  When we are lost in the woods, the sight of a sign post is a great matter.  But when we have found the road and are passing sign posts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare.  They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up.  But we shall not stop and stare, not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their letterings of gold.  We would be at Jerusalem."

This Thanksgiving I'd encourage you to enjoy the good gifts God has given.  But don't let that be the end of gratitude.  All the good things God has given are pointing you to eternity.

If you've enjoyed this post, consider subscribing by e-mail.  If you think others would benefit, share it with them.  


  1. Wonderful, thought-provoking words. Will read it again with Sean tonight.

  2. Thanks, Phil. I'm at the end of what was a long day with my 3 year old and 1 year old and I want so much to have a grateful heart for all that God has blessed me with but I'm finding myself sort of discontent this evening. Perhaps what I am feeling is that God given longing for the "something greater" that you wrote about. These sweet gifts I've been blessed with should be pointing me to Him and the eternity I long to spend in His presence. Such a good reminder. thanks!