A week ago I was in Wittenberg, Germany. I joined a conference which I found to be absolutely intriguing. Nearly 499 years ago, Martin Luther set out from this picturesque town on what in time will be known as the Reformation. Next October will mark 500 years to the event, and this conference was a part of the preparation towards this event.
The streets were adorned with memorabilia, all related to Luther. He is the number one brand sold here – from aprons sporting his image to tennis racquets. I even found Luther spaghetti…
The conference focused on repentance for the initial split from the Catholic church, a split which led to countless more afterwards. There were key figures from the Catholic, Lutheran and Protestant churches. Nuns, together with European royalty, all agreed to do something (as symbolic as it may be) regarding the initial split.
On the positive side…
…Luther’s reformation completely changed Christian history. He was the one who made clear that we are saved and justified by grace, and do not need to pay penance to obtain our forgiveness. Prior to his reformation, there was an entire industry of indulgences – forgiveness purchased by price from the priests. Luther put an end to that.
On the negative side…
…Luther was extremely anti-Semite. He wrote a myriad of writings against us, and some were even used later by Hitler and his cronies.
On one of the walls of the church Luther preached from is found an obscene embossment showing a sow, with her piglets suckling. Among them there is a Jew nursing on her as well. Behind her stands a Rabbi, lifting the sow′s tail sand digging inside her. Underneath he is attempting to read a page from the Gmara. The message: This is your origin, Jews! Above it reads an inscription: “Rabini Shem hamphoras,” gibberish which presumably is a word play on the explicit name of God.
Strange that with all the political correctness around us, this embossment still hasn’t been removed.
One afternoon, during the conference, we all marched there and prayed right under the embossment. Marianna, my Israeli colleague, chose to forgive in specific details: to the artist that created the embossment, the original priest who had put it up, and the current priest that maintains and keeps it on.
Some of the gentiles in the group got on their knees, and expressed a sincere remorse.
I was emotionally numb at that point. I did not expect the Jewish point to become so prominent in a conference that was meant to focus on Lutherans and Catholics. The truth is I wasn’t even sure I should be there, but something struck my curiosity when I first heard about it. It made me wonder if down the road, the repentance will not stop only at the division from Rome, but will go further to the original division from Jerusalem. With the widowhood of Israel capturing my heart in such intensity, I wanted to be there and taste what real reconciliation feels and tastes like. And it was real.
Anyway, while everyone was repenting and forgiving under that horrific image, I stood by the wayside and tried to think of a Jewess, my age, that lived in that town about 500 years ago, and was passing this obscenity every day.
How would she have felt? What thoughts would have gone through her mind? I wondered how long would it take for someone to believe in what people say about him or her. And so I forgave as well!
A German nobleman who attended the conference asked a Messianic Jew from England, “What can be done to compensate for this abhorring embossment? What would be the right thing to do?”
I was deeply impressed. Here is someone with obvious influence and the ability to change things, not only asking for forgiveness, but also wishing to know what can be done about it. Sometimes, activism can be a good thing!