It was an hour before we were supposed to board the plane. We were surprised when we were called to report to the boarding gate. (This was about 1.30 in the morning, after a weekend of ministry, after three weeks in the Pacific Northwest, waiting to board our Vancouver to Hong Kong flight.) We asked the airline official if there was anything wrong. (In a previous flight from Canada we were bumped off the plane because two of the plane’s toilets had broken down, and by law they had to limit the number of passengers.) “Oh yes, there is something very wrong,” she said with a grin. “We have to change your boarding passes.” Bernice, who is the more alert of the two of us at any hour, looked at the new boarding passes and said, “Business class!” We had been bumped up to business class at no extra charge. We could stretch out on business class seats on the long cross-Pacific flight home. We were grateful. We were very grateful because we didn’t deserve the upgrade. And we were very tired.
The Christian life is one that is fuelled by gratitude. As Daniel Doriani writes: “The Gospels introduce and the Epistles develop the concept that gratitude for God’s deliverance in Christ characterizes the believer “(“Thankfulness, Thanksgiving”, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996,770). Indeed, “The roots of this NT theme derive from Israel’s covenantal tradition where thanksgiving and praise were nearly equated as the necessary posture of a people blessed by divine grace … ” (“Thanksgiving,” Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, ed. William D. Mounce, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006, 722).
The Christian life is one that is fuelled by gratitude and the depth of our gratitude is in direct proportion to our understanding of how much grace we have received. This is Jesus’s lesson in Luke 7: 36-50. At a dinner hosted by a Pharisee, Jesus receives incredible expressions of love from an uninvited guest, a woman “who had lived a sinful life” (TNIV).
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-38 TNIV)
The perfume alone would have cost a year’s worth of wages. And wiping the feet with one’s hair, kissing them, and putting perfume on them, went way beyond the usual practice of washing the feet of one’s guests with water (John 13). Why such extravagance? Because the woman was grateful. Jesus goes on to help the Pharisee understand the connection between our sense of gratitude and our awareness of how much grace we have received.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. (Luke 7:41-43 TNIV)
In contrast, the host of the evening, the Pharisee had done little to show his affection for Jesus because he believed he had received little from Jesus.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47 TNIV)
Darrell L. Bock comments:
According to the parable, the basis of love is a previously extended forgiveness that produces a response of love. So Jesus indicates that the woman’s actions reflect her experience of forgiveness from him. The Lord’s deceleration to her of forgiveness of sins serves to confirm what the parable has already indicated. There is also an implied warning from Jesus to the Pharisee who probably sees himself as a “little sinner”: “Your love may not be great because you have not appreciated the depth of forgiveness. (Luke, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996, 218)
So much of our discipleship is directed at telling people what they should do as followers of Jesus. Unfortunately we often give little attention to the question of motivation — just why should people walk in step with the Spirit especially when that often entails walking out of sync with the world? I think we should focus more on helping people develop thankful hearts, ones that recognise just how much the Lord has really done for us. Grateful hearts will motivate a true discipleship.
In truth, the Lord has done so much for us. We owe Him everything and more. But we quickly forget. Which may be why the key spiritual observance of both the Old and the New Testaments, the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, are aimed at helping us remember what the Lord has done for us. Because if/when we do, we will bring the alabaster jars of our lives to Jesus, and break them in offering to Him. This is true worship (Romans 12:1). On our flight back from Vancouver, we were grateful to the airline, and worshipping God.