Captain Marco was an officer in the secret police of the former Soviet Union several decades ago. He was a cold-blooded, cruel man. Part of his job was to arrest and imprison Christians who were members of unregistered churches and did not follow the government rules for church membership. For propaganda purposes, the registered churches were allowed to have ‘some’ religious freedom, but it was a freedom that came with many restrictions. One of those restrictions was that church members were not allowed to do anything to pass on their faith to another person, not even to their own children. It was rules like that which made many Christians form their own non-registered churches, even though that meant arrest and persecution if discovered. It was Captain Marco’s job to find, arrest, and discourage these Christians from continuing to meet. His way of discouraging them was by imprisonment, beatings, and sometimes torture.
One day, a twelve year old boy came into Captain Marco’s office. “What do you want?,” snarled the captain. The boy was intimidated and afraid and silent for a few moments. Then he overcame his fear and began to speak. “Captain,” he said, “you are the man who arrested my parents from our church last month, and put them into prison. Today is my mother’s birthday, and I always buy her a flower for her birthday. But no one will let me see her, so I can’t give her a flower this year. However, my mother always told me that Jesus said we should love our enemies and to respond to evil by doing good. Therefore, I want to give you my mother’s birthday flower for you to give to the mother of your children. Please take it home to your wife tonight, and tell her that I have forgiven you because of the love and forgiveness of Jesus.”
Captain Marco, who had watched without caring as Christians were beaten and tortured, was stunned. He was moved to compassion by such a courageous act of forgiveness by this little boy. With tears in his eyes, he slowly walked around his desk and went over and embraced the boy.
Captain Marco’s heart was now changed by this example of Christian love. He could no longer arrest and torture Christians. It wasn’t long before he himself was arrested for disobeying orders, and for trying to learn more about Jesus.
A few months after the boy’s visit to his office, the former Captain Marco was sitting in a filthy prison cell, surrounded by some of the same Christians he had previously arrested and tortured. He tearfully told his cellmates about the young boy and the simple gift of the flower. He now considered it an honor to share a cell with those he had previously hunted and attacked.
What incredible courage and forgiveness was displayed by that boy! How does someone get that way? Where does such courage, such Christ-like love come from?
I don’t know any more about this story, but even from this little bit we can be sure of at least a couple things. First of all, that boy came from a family that was a part of a community of believers, a church; and secondly, in that church and from his mother he heard some stories, and was shaped by those stories. When giving the flower to Captain Marco, the boy said that Jesus taught us to love and to forgive our enemies.
If you belong to a church, you are going to hear that story of Jesus. And in that story we do hear that Jesus taught us to forgive others, and we see that he himself was an example of such forgiveness. Even from the cross he forgave his enemies, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A couple years later an early apostle named Stephen, while being killed by his enemies, prayed that same prayer for their forgiveness. No doubt he was inspired by the story of Christ’s forgiveness. And throughout the history of the church, there have been thousands of other stories of such forgiveness. To be a part of a community of faith is to hear and be shaped by such stories, as was that 12 year old boy. Great stories of faith, told and lived out by good and godly people, create, sustain, and pass on the Christian faith. The purpose of the church is to tell those stories. (continued…)
Matthew 5:43-45 — (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Luke 6:32-36 — (Jesus said), “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.