Dublin, Ireland Photographer: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
One of the hardest commands is God’s command for all Christians to forgive. Christianity is unlike any other belief system. Jesus commands his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. Jesus didn’t just dish out commands though, He embodied and lived out the hardest of them.
Jesus after being severely beaten, flogged, and now nailed to a cross in front of His mom, family, and friends is then mocked for one last time. In mockery the Romans put up a sign that said “King of the Jews.” mocking His claim to divinity. The Gospel of Luke states, “they mocked him, coming to Him, and offering vinegar.” Other gospels describe this act of offering vinegar as being from a sponge on a stick. Different interpretations arise as to if this was an act of mercy towards Jesus, or perhaps considering the language of the of Gospel of Luke a possible last insult towards Jesus. The sponge on a stick was known among Romans as communal toilet paper. They were commonly reused in the community toilets.
Regardless of the intention of the sponge, one thing we know for sure is that Jesus responded to all of this pain and cruelness in love. Jesus looks down on the cross to his mockers in love and says “Father, forgive them.”
There are times in history we see great acts of forgiveness being offered not only from our Lord but God’s people as well. One of the first Deacons in the Christian church, Stephen, was being stoned to death, and echoes a similar phrase during one of his last breaths “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” A modern day example of forgiveness that is embodied well is in Amish culture.
Many of you may remember hearing about the horrible shooting that happened in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in October of 2006. In an act of evil and terror a gunman entered into a Amish Children’s schoolhouse. According to the Washington Post “The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.” CBS news tells they also found lubricating jelly and plastic restrains with him indicating a possible intention to sexually assault the Amish girls.
The aftermath of this act of terror was all over the news. But something unique happened overtime news came to focus on something else, the Amish culture of forgiveness. The very night of the shooting, the parents of the shooter received Amish visitors, they were their to offer their love and forgiveness to the family. One Amish man Daniel Esh who had three grandnephews in the building at the time of shooting is quoted as saying “I hope they stay around here and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support.”2 One other Amish man named Henry went to the parents shooter’s house and put his hand the shoulder of Terri Robert’s husband and called him a friend.3
The support of the Amish did not end there however. Later that week the Roberts had a private funeral for their son. As many as 40 Amish came to the funeral to support them, offer their condolences, and love them. The Amish formed a wall around the funeral to block out any media cameras. One set of parents whose daughters died in the shooting approached the couple and offered their condolences.
Many of the Amish have struck a very close friendship with the Roberts including some of the children who were victims that day. The Amish built a room at the Roberts house as a gift, and put up a sign “forgiven” that is emblazoned across the room. They have regular get-togethers with the Roberts. One particularly striking friendship that has came from the shooting is the friendship between the Terri Roberts and one of the girls who was shot, now is tube-fed and bound to a wheelchair. The mother of the shooter visits her once a week “I read to her, I bathe her, dry her hair.”3 One Amish person said “’None of us would have ever chosen this. But the relationships that we have built through it, you can’t put a price on that.’”3
A professor of Amish studies was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “for most people, forgiveness and acceptance come at the end of a long emotional process. But the Amish forgive first and then every day work through the emotions of it. This “decisional forgiveness” opened a space for Roberts to offer her friendship, which normally in their situation would be uncomfortable, he said.”1
Many may see the Amish actions as beautiful, but also perhaps untenable for them. Forgiveness for many is one of Jesus’ hardest commands to follow, yet it remains one of his strictest. “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Jesus said. These are tough words, many have gone through unimaginable sufferings and cling to unforgiveness and bitterness. But in the end we see that our willingness to forgive not only speaks of a greater forgiveness at hand through the cross, but it will set us free from a lot of pain as well.
- Itkowitz, C. (2016, October 01). Her son shot their daughters 10 years ago. Then, these Amish families embraced her as a friend. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/10/01/10-years-ago-her-son-killed-amish-children-their-families-immediately-accepted-her-into-their-lives/?utm_term=.afd21126fb7b
- Collins, D. (2006, October 04). Amish Forgive, Pray And Mourn. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/amish-forgive-pray-and-mourn/
- Staff, NPR. (2016, September 30). A Decade After Amish School Shooting, Gunman’s Mother Talks Of Forgiveness. Retrieved January 30, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/2016/09/30/495905609/a-decade-after-amish-school-shooting-gunman-s-mother-talks-of-forgiveness