"Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who trespass against us." (Matthew 6:12)
On Third Avenue a few blocks from our home is the best Jewish deli around. Occasionally I stop by for a quick lunch and indulge in a great corn beef sandwich. Recently, as I wandered in, an elderly Jewish guy sat down next to me. We exchanged conversation, and I noticed a tattoo of numbers on his right forearm. I remarked “you didn’t get those tats on the lower east side.” Sadly what I discerned was true--Abe was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland and a native of Prague. He was one of the last “trainloads” of Jews to be sent to the camps. At age 10, he was taken to Treblinka and survived the death camp and near starvation. Toward the end of the war, he escaped and during the Russian occupation through stealth and unforeseen kindness, Polish farmers hid him. He is the only survivor of his Czech family. An uncle in Brooklyn found him living with a Polish family in 1952, and brought him to America.
I am always intensely interested in history and this gem of a man, who was walking history, was totally engaged with my inquiries: “Who were the farmers?” I asked. “How did you find your uncle? Did you testify to the Allies about the camps? Where any Germans kind to you? How did you survive in Prague?” Then my history inquiry led to the existential questions: “Can you forgive?” Abe gave a great sigh and simply said “There are somethings that just cannot be forgiven.” I explained that I was a follower of Jesus and the power of the cross is where forgiveness was pronounced to all. He placed his tattooed arm around my shoulder and pensively responded: “I wish I could believe that. There do seem to be a lot of Jews being killed in history, Jesus perhaps being the most famous.” An hour and half passed, and my sandwich long ago lost its allure. I walked out of the deli and Abe said, “My new friend, peace until we meet again.” A remarkable New York story and perhaps a reminder to all of us of the sorrows of the world that seem to increase with each passing day.
Reflecting on my own faith journey, I was once again struck by the life-changing power of the cross, where our Lord not only pronounces forgiveness--“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”-- but actually dies for the sorrows and sins of the world. It is, of course, the atoning power of the cross that allows us to say “I’m sorry...will you forgive me?” And in response, “Yes, I do forgive you.”
In our ever changing political climate in the USA and around the world, there seems to be a divide so deep and painful that even the concept of forgiveness or reconciliation has been replaced by accusation, hatred, and a self-destructive judgement that knows no hope or forgiveness.
Perhaps we who follow Christ might become a hope and vehicle of forgiveness for the painful, hostile climate we are now facing.
Praying for such a grace for us all,