There is a semi-professionally looking sheetrock patch job next to my front door and it has Gilbert’s name on it. Several years ago, we were part of disaster recovery team that went down to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Gilbert was the team’s master carpenter and I was his underling, barely qualified to pick up heavy stuff. He proved not only to be an excellent contractor, but also a patient teacher, Thanks to his tutelage I learned the basics of hanging sheetrock and mudding.
I visited Gilbert three weeks before he died of liver cancer to thank him and to report on my handiwork. A smile flickered across Gilbert’s face as I described my work.
“Yaw! I gave many guys their start in construction,” he said in his trademark Cannuck accent.
“They must be some of the most rewarding experiences of your life.” I replied trying my best to encourage him.
“Naawwwww Man! It was frus-TRAAAYYYYTTTT-ing!”
Gilbert’s response startled me. Was it that agonizing for him to watch me handle a screw gun in Mississippi?
“Why Gilbert?” I asked bracing myself for the answer.
“We lost so many,” he whispered with eyes full of pain. “I would go down to Steppingstones (a residential rehab program in Fall River) and take guys out on construction jobs to teach them the trade. But so many disappeared after they received their first paycheck, the temptation was just too great. So many I never saw again.”
“So why did you keep doing it?” I asked.
His face softened. “Because I was grateful. When I pray, ‘I thank God for the gift of life’, I mean it.” And he did. You see, Gilbert recently celebrated twenty four years clean. God had literally picked him up out of the gutter and had given him second life. It was a gratitude created by God’s grace that made him who he was. It was a thankful heart that gave him the strength to minister to hopeless cases. For he had been hopeless, but God had set him free.
I went home wondering why I lacked Gilbert’s sense of gratitude. I think it’s because I managed to limit my sins to the socially acceptable variety. I never hit the same level of desperation, but I should have. In Luke 7, Jesus visited the home of a religious man named Simon the Pharisee. Simon was suspicious of Jesus and wanted to see if Jesus was up to par. During the dinner party, a prostitute burst into the room and rushed over to Jesus. To Simon’s horror she began embracing Jesus’ feet and allowing her tears to fall on his dirty feet. She wiped them dry with her hair and poured perfume on them.
Jesus did not stop his sinful woman, all the while he is looking intently at Simon reading his thoughts. He has one question for the indignant Pharisee. Two men were forgiven a debt owed to their master. One debt was smaller and the other larger. Which man would love the master more?
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward this 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 poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven – for she loved much. But he has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:43-47)
Unlike Simon and unlike myself, Gilbert never forgot how much he had been forgiven. He was forgiven much and therefore in gratitude he loved much. More than sheetrock, Gilbert taught me gratitude. Thank you Gilbert and thank you Jesus.