Thanksgiving: Enzo the Baker, the Men of Jabesh-Gilead, and Gratitude

Some previously-published (and slightly edited) thoughts on Thanksgiving:

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes occurs fairly early in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic classic, The Godfather.

Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family and the “Godfather” of the movie’s title, is in the hospital, having barely survived an attempt on his life. His youngest son, Michael, comes to visit him, but discovers that his father is unguarded and all by himself, and realizes that another attempt is about to be made on his life.

Michael calls his older brother on the phone and tells him to send reinforcements, and then hides his father in another hospital room.

About this time, Enzo the Baker arrives.

Earlier in the movie, the Godfather had used his considerable influence to take care of some immigration issues that Enzo was struggling with, and now the young Sicilian has come to pay his respects to the ailing Don.

Michael tries to warn Enzo of the danger he is in, but Enzo refuses to leave:
“You better get out of here, Enzo, there’s gonna be trouble.”

“If there is trouble, I stay here to help you. For your father. For your father.”
The two men go outside and wait on the front steps, posing as bodyguards. A car of would-be assassins pulls up, but confused by the appearance of guards where they weren’t expecting to find any, they drive on.

Scared to death, Enzo begins to shake and struggles to light a cigarette. He is out of place in the world of organized crime, but a debt of gratitude has compelled an ordinary man to act in an extraordinary fashion, risking his life to save someone else.

We talk a lot about being thankful, or grateful, at this time of year, but I wonder if we don’t often mistake appreciation for gratitude.

Sure, we’re glad that we are able to gather with family, and we appreciate the fact that we have a lot of blessings—we certainly wouldn’t want to try living without those blessings—but often that’s as far as it goes.

But gratitude goes a step further than appreciation. From Wikipedia:
“Gratitude is the substance of a heart ready to show appreciation, or thankfulness; it is not simply an emotion, which involves a pleasant feeling that can occur when we receive a favor or benefit from another person, but rather the combination of a state of being and an emotion; often accompanied by a desire to thank them, or to reciprocate for a favour they have done for you.”
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation accompanied by a desire to act. It was a deep feeling of gratitude that drove Enzo to disregard his own safety in order to help the man who had helped him.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories illustrates gratitude very well, and focuses on the men of Jabesh-Gilead.

Just after Saul has been anointed as the first king of Israel, the Ammonites come and besiege the town of Jabesh-Gilead. The elders of Jabesh know that they can’t withstand the Ammonites, and they also know that they will be treated harshly if they surrender, so they send messengers throughout Israel, hoping that someone will come to their aid.

When Saul hears the news, he becomes angry and promises to deliver the town in 1 Samuel 11.9,11:
“They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”
Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, but if you were to stop reading there, you would be unaware of the debt of gratitude that the men of Jabesh apparently felt toward him.

In fact, you have to go many years into the future, to the very end of Saul’s reign, before Jabesh-Gilead is mentioned again.

This time, Saul has gone to war against the Philistines, and the fighting has gone very badly for the Israelites: three of Saul’s sons are killed, and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer.

When the Philistines come upon the body of Saul, they cut off his head and take his weapons. The weapons end up in a temple to a false god, and Saul’s body is hung as a war trophy on the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:
“Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
When the men of Jabesh-Gilead hear what has happened to Saul, they remember the debt of gratitude they owe him, walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.

This act of gratitude is even more impressive when you realize that this is a debt that they have been waiting to pay for 40 years—the entire length of Saul’s reign. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, and yet they are still willing to risk their lives to protect his honor.

Gratitude compels people to act.

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus sacrificed Himself to cleanse me of sin and to make reconciliation with God possible.

I very much appreciate that sacrifice, but more than that, I am grateful for it—I wish there was something I could do to repay the debt of gratitude that I feel.

But there isn’t. The best I can do is to try to live each day for Jesus, to live as He Himself did.

I fail often, and sometimes I fail miserably, but I am still compelled to try. Gratitude will permit nothing less.


Seeing Our Problems As Blessings

Something that I realized once in a rare moment of clarity was how, as Americans, we are so incredibly blessed that even most of our “problems”—the things we worry and complain about—are really just outgrowths of our blessings.

Let me give a few examples…

(1) The main complaints you hear from college students center on (a) how expensive college is and (b) how difficult and stressful college coursework is (I have been guilty of both of these complaints in my life). But from another perspective, it’s easy to see how fortunate we are to live in a country where the government provides a great deal of assistance in paying for college and basically gives students as much time as they need to pay it back. Furthermore, whatever temporary stresses and hardships college work can bring on someone is more than made up for by the opportunities a college education affords. Having the opportunity to go to college is a great blessing!

(2) You hear people complain all the time about their cars (I especially hear this from teenagers!)—about how they are too small, or too old, or not cool enough, or get poor gas mileage, etc.—when the idea of owning a car is literally unimaginable to most people in the world. Owning a car is a great blessing!

(3) People complain about their jobs—about low pay, or how boring it is, or how mean their bosses are, or how annoying their coworkers are—when there are people all over the world who are unemployed and in desperate need of work. Having a job is a great blessing!

(4) Parents often spend a great deal of time worrying about their children. They worry about how their kids do in school, if they have the right kind of friends, if they have enough friends, getting them to every sports practice on time so the coach will give them playing time and they can grow up to become the next superstar in their sport. Some parents have children with health concerns, and worry about the uncertainty associated with that (this one strikes home with me). But all of these worries are only made possible by the fact that parents have children in the first place, and children are truly one of the great, great blessings of life!

(5) And finally, from a spiritual standpoint, I hear Christians complain all the time about problems that exist in the church of which they are a part—people they don’t like, bad sermons, unfriendliness, lack of programs—when there are millions of people throughout the world who have never even heard of Christ, or even if they have heard and decided to follow Him, have no local congregation of the church to be a part of. You wouldn’t be able to complain about your church if you didn’t have one; having a church family is a great blessing!

Obviously, I am speaking in generalizations here, and each of us has trials and issues that we have to face in our own lives. But on the whole, we are so incredibly blessed…I don’t know what we’d do if we had to deal with real problems on a daily basis.


When Nero Was On The Throne

It has been interesting to me over the last 12 hours or so to read Facebook status updates and tweets from my Christians friends about yesterday’s presidential election. The fact that some of these Christians are celebrating the reelection of President Obama while others are lamenting it tell me that either:

(a) Applying Christian values to voting is a difficult and murky process.
(b) Christians aren’t very aware of what “Christian values” actually are.
(c) Both A and B are partially true.

But I digress. If your candidate won yesterday, be happy, be thankful, and try not to gloat too much. If your candidate did not win yesterday (and if you are in this group, you are the real audience for this post), remember that as a Christian, you can glorify God by showing respect to the one who is in authority, even if he wasn’t your choice:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
(Romans 13.1-7)

Paul’s words here are pretty hard to swallow for Christians who struggle to respect and submit to their leaders. When we think about leaders that we don’t like much, it can be difficult for us to affirm statements like, “the authorities are ministers of God” and that resisting them means that we are resisting “what God has appointed”. But that’s exactly what Paul says.

Mosaic depicting a Christian martyr
And to those who are inclined to think that Paul just didn’t understand about bad leaders, realize that he wrote these words to the Christians in Rome while Nero was Emperor. Nero was a vile man and a dedicated persecutor of Christians who was known for using the bodies of captured Christians as fuel for the fires which lit his garden at night. No President that our nation has ever had could hold a candle to Nero when it comes to sheer wickedness*, and it was most likely during the reign of Nero that Paul himself was executed. And yet, to a man such as this, Paul urges Christians to be in subjection.

If your candidate didn’t win yesterday, it’s okay to be disappointed. It’s okay to disagree with the policies of the current President, and it’s okay to hope for a better outcome next time. But respect your President, and be in subjection to him. Even if it is hard.

*Please do not interpret this to mean that I am suggesting that President Obama is somehow equivalent to Nero. I am not.


Friday Summary Report, November 2

Today’s installment will be brief, as I am in the midst of a particularly busy day:

(1) Yesterday, Harding University (my alma mater) announced that Bruce McLarty has been selected as the next President of the school. It has been interesting to me to read the array of responses from various parties about the announcements. I think Bruce firmly grasps Harding’s identity in the context of Churches of Christ, Christian colleges, and education in general, and it is my belief that he will continue to steer Harding on the unique course which it has chosen. In general, my feeling is this: if you love what Harding is, then I think Bruce is a great choice; if you are critical of Harding, then probably he is not your ideal candidate. Personally, I am excited.

(2) Here is an outstanding post from Scott Bond on “Why Little Girls Need Their Dad.” As a fairly recent father of a little girl, the post was especially meaningful for me, but I think it’s a good read for any Christian father.

(3) Last month set an all-time record in traffic here at The Doc File. This was a pleasant surprise, as my school workload really slowed down my posting after the first few days of the month. Thanks to all who continue to read!

(4) This post on Hashtag Media has gotten some attention. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the good things that these guys are doing.

The Doc File © 2006-2012 by Luke Dockery

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP