Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where Is Our Hope?

Not long ago I was reminded of the O. Henry short story "The Last Leaf."  Like probably everyone else, I read this story in school, but I hadn't thought of it in years.  I don't want to spoil the ending; so if you're not familiar with the story, feel free to click through the title and read it.

source: Flickr user oparrish
In the story, Johnsy--very ill with pneumonia--is watching the ivy leaves on a brick wall outside her window.  When only five leaves remain, she says, "When the last one falls I must go, too."

The story takes place in New York City in November, when leaves are bound to be short-lived ... hardly a secure place to put one's hope.

What struck me is that Johnsy was placing her hope in something she could see, but something of little real significance.  It reminded me of what the Bible says about faith:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)
This seems to be exactly the opposite of what Johnsy did.  As Christians, we place our hope in Jesus.  We know He is real even though we can't see Him in a literal sense.  The apostle Paul--speaking about "[waiting] eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies"--says this about hope:
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? (Romans 8:24, NIV)
Here's another interesting twist.  As I was thinking about this, I came across a site which describes "The Last Leaf" as an allegory for the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.  If we combine these ideas, it certainly looks like a picture of Christ's redemptive work on the cross:  Even while Johnsy was placing her hope in the wrong place, someone took it upon himself to save her life, although it cost him dearly.  Let me restate it in a more personal way:  Even while I did not recognize my need for a Savior, God provided a way to save my life, although it cost Him dearly.

This is what Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 5:6-11, NIV):
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
As far as I know, O. Henry was not a Christian.  Perhaps it wasn't his intention for "The Last Leaf" to be viewed as an allegory for salvation through faith in Jesus.  What do you think that such a master of irony would think of this interpretation?


  1. I love this, Melissa. I don't know what O. Henry would say, but it looks like a clear picture of One doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. I love finding redemptive themes in classic literature - you're speaking my language today!

    Great post.

  2. Melissa you always have the best post that make me think! GREAT post my dear

  3. never heard of it, but going to read it now...


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