It is a rainy afternoon and I am snapping photos from a little golf cart that tours Krakow, Poland. It has no sides but still shares the busy, traffic-jammed streets with real vehicles, leaving me with a feeling of vulnerability. I shiver and grasp my camera securely. The spring rain still has the bite of winter making me wish for a second layer. The Jewish Ghetto of Krakow seeps into my bones.
I have walked the streets of Auschwitz and Birkenau, turned my eyes from the plethora of photos that speak the last desperate syllables of life on this planet, seen the cases of hair, dolls, shoes, spectacles, that once belonged to someone just like me. That once belonged to 12 million souls like me. And, one of the questions that always worries me is simply, ‘How did they not know?’
It gnaws at me, like a rat at a piece of garbage.
That little village of Auschwitz woke up every morning and dusted away the ashes in their homes that fell from the ovens next door. Bodies burned in ovens produce ash. Human ash : Bodies fell from the sky : Children rained upon their heads. And, they ate their porridge and did their chores and went to school, and paid their bills, and made babies, and birthed babies, and went to church, and danced at weddings. While right next door, the twin monsters of Birkenau and Auschwitz gorged themselves in an evil inhale and exhale of human life.
How did those good, law abiding, God fearing, neighbors not know what was happening next door?
Get away from my garbage, Rat!
Sitting in my little, vulnerable, golf cart in the Krakow Ghetto, I snap a tourist photo of a beacon of heroism called ‘Under the Eagle Pharmacy’. A brave Pole named Tadeusz Pankiewicz chose to stay there, to live there, and to operate his little pharmacy right there under Nazi occupation. From his corner spot in the Maly Rynak Square of the Jewish Ghetto, his eyes repeatedly recorded the hell of thousands of Jews who were gathered in the empty plaza, stripped of their belongings, loaded into vehicles and shipped to extermination. Courageously, at the risk of his own life, he operated a resistance movement out of the pharmacy and he saved as many people as he could.
Now, Mr. Pankiewicz could have closed his eyes, closed his shop, moved to the Aryan side to protect his family, provide for his retirement, save his own life. He could have. He probably should have but, he didn’t. And, I can’t help but think that the reason Mr. Pankiewicz stayed has a lot to do with what Dave and Betsy Scott talked about in their Charity Shop seminar last week.
The little shop in Zagreb is called Qanah, pronounced /Kawh – nuh/, which rolls off the Croatian tongue with the same pronunciation as Cana; the place where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. It would be easy to believe that there is no wine left in the neighborhoods of our world.
One might think that the homeless guy who rummages through the trash is just breath-sounds in an old, beaten body waiting to die. One could assume that a sick woman has nothing left to do but make doctor visits. One might believe that the unemployed family is just plain lazy. WE might think a lot of things about a lot of people but when they have faces, they become more than images on the edges of our reality.
‘When they have faces.’ That is what Ashley, the Qanah volunteer, said and her words took a bite out of my skin.
Get way from my garbage, Rat!
Laughing, crying, feeling, terrified, hopeful, hungering, desperate, broken, beautiful, priceless, images of a God who inserted himself into our picture and became a face, like ours. And, when people have faces, we begin to care.
That Jesus, who saw the faces of a bride and groom and filled with compassion, filled up the vats with wine, He fills up our souls with the wine that washes away sin.
That God of ours, who calls his people to act when it seems like the thirst is so great and the wine has long run out.
That Savior, who injects his pulse for his people into the very tissue of our hearts, HE calls us to go, to serve, to see the faces, when it would seem so safe and right to eat our porridge and do our chores and go to school, and pay our bills, and make babies, and birth babies, and go to church, and dance at weddings.
But, when people have faces, and Satan rounds them up in the Maly Rynak Square, which means ‘little market’, the focus of the Church becomes very black and white. Our call is clear.
I think Tadeusz Pankiewisz saw it.
I think the folks in Zagreb see it. They SEE this commission to gather-in the faces of our neighborhoods and together with them, set a table, combine our resources, cook a meal, bravely lay out a banquet table right there in the middle of a little market where people become commodities without faces. They serve up wine, good wine, the best wine, the wine that none of us can afford.
Right there, in the middle of Satan’s people market, where he strips them and sells them, body and soul into extermination. Right there, courageously, THERE, they boldly proclaim that the WINE is come. Righteous courage, HIS righteous courage, HIM, flowing through us ushers in the Kingdom.
When people have faces, they become someone that God created and loves and values in the same measure that He feels those things for me.
And, I find that the Rat is not a rat at all.
It is a Jewish mother screaming for her children.
It is a Nigerian mother screaming for her daughter.
It is a face, like mine, reflecting the images of tears, and pain, and joy, and sorrow, and hope, and hopelessness, and brokenness, and forgiveness, and hunger, and thirst, and redemption …
So, get away from my garbage, Rat?
Or, RISE UP CHURCH?