Today we started at a place that not many tour groups see. On the southern slopes of Mount Zion is a Catholic Cemetery that houses the grave of Oskar Schindler, the Polish factory owner during the time of Nazi Germany that was depicted and made famous in the 1993 movie, Schindler’s List. Much of what I say next comes from a powerful story that Govenor Huckabee told as we stood in the cool early morning air around that grave.
In the movie, Liam Neeson portrays Oskar Schindler as a fairly decent business man who, after some misgivings, began to use his position and possessions to save many Jews from the horrors of the Auswich concentration camp and extermination at the hands of his fellow Nazis. While the end of the movie seems fairly accurate, Govenor Huckabee told us that the first part was anything but. Schindler was not good, or noble, or righteous in any way. He was a cheat, an adulterer, a ruthless business owner whose only interest in the Jews was as a source of slave labor to fuel his factory and line his pockets with profits from making pots and pans for the Nazi war effort. He lied and stole and harshly treated the Jews, along with his compatriots, until some inexplicable change of heart did turn him into the most unlikely of saviors for 1100 Jewish people who would otherwise have surely died in the gas chambers If you remember the movie, that change of heart eventually cost him everything and Schindler lost his wealth, his prestige, and very nearly, his life, giving every last penny to try and save just one more Jew. He died a pauper, never able to reamass the money that he once had.
And yet, today he is buried in, recognized by, and even revered by the people of Israel as a national hero and a savior. His grave is a constant destination for Jews from around the world. The direct descendants of his “Schindler Jews,” the 1100 that he rescued, are leading citizens in Israel, prominent business people, physicians, members of the Knesset, the Israeli governing body. The entire nation pays homage to the righteousness of this man who was anything but that for most of his life. The last acts of his life more than erased the terrible mistakes of his earlier days.
While the Govenor was talking I thought of a lot of other people who blew it big time but later found a place of redemption and re-righteousness. On the other side of Mount Zion we visited the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, literally “cock’s crow,” named after the horrible rejection of Jesus by Peter. I say old Pete turned that around pretty well. We saw the Road to Damascus, where murdering Saul had his name, and his heart changed. He did alright in the rigeouness arena in his latter years. We even went out of the city and rode camels and talked about Abraham, who scattered a fair amount of real bonehead moves in among his times of being righteous. In other words, history is replete with people who start out, or at least spend some time, on the wrong side of righteousness, but who find a way, a God given way, to reinvent their stories and become heroes for God.
Can I be honest? I was thinking about another real loser while we were at Schindler’s Grave. I was thinking about a guy that really messed up, nearly destroyed his family, his life, and every thing he held dear and was about as far from righteous as you could get. Let’s call him, oh, I don’t know…Mike. Man I can identify with ole Oskar. I certainly lived that selfish, sinful, self-centered life. If they ever made a movie about my life and Liam Neeson plays me, I hope he would be pretty inaccurate about the first half. (Who am I kidding? I want him to be inaccurate about the last half too. I want him to show me kicking the crap out of people and taking with a husky, Scottish accent.)
I’m not saying that we have to, or even can, make up for the terrible choices we have made in life. I have wounded people, hurt God, messed up in ways that can never be undone. I am saying, by the wonderful grace of God that all of us have the chance to change our story and finish well. We all have the opportunity to be the hero to somebody who desperately needs us still. We are “saved by grace and not by works.” We are forgiven, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ did. We are righteous, not because of our actions or activities, but because God DECLARES it to be so. We don’t need to, nor can we, work our way back into favor with God.
However, I believe, and I am going to try, to live the last of my days in such a way that God allows my story to be completely different than what it might have otherwise been. God loves us so much that He lets us rewrite the script and have the movie take a twist that no one saw coming. We all get to be the heroes of our own stories.
So here are four simple statements, observations really, that I make after a day reflecting on the way Oskar Schindler finished:
1. It is never too late to turn things around.
2. There is always someone or some ones that need your help.
3. You cannot save everyone but you can save someone.
4. No price is too great to pay for a chance to be “righteous.”
That’s it. Nofunny stories. No clever endings. Just a challenge that you think about what they will say standing around your grave in the early morning hours. And if they make a movie of your life, who will play the lead? I get Liam Neeson.