More Than Tax Collectors

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, October 21, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

Nine years ago this month, an Amish community in Pennsylvania not far from where I grew up became the center of the national news when a disturbed gunman took a classroom hostage at a local schoolhouse and shot ten innocent girls, killing five of them. As is the case with most tragedies covered by the media, there was instant outrage from many people both locally and nationally. Some were angry because the man had guns and believed that stricter gun laws would have prevented the crime. Others were simply angry because the man took his own life and they believed in the name of justice that such an end was too easy for him. Amongst all the media coverage and statements of judgment and anger from all over, there was one community that chose a vastly different response - the one who seemingly had the most right to be angry.

Even now, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who remembers anything about the incident without also remembering the overwhelming response of the members of that Amish community who had just lost five children. Their willingness to love and forgive became as much a part of the story as the act itself. According to this article, a grandfather of one of the girls killed stated that they “must not think evil” of the man who committed the heinous crime. Others focused on the needs of the killer’s grieving widow and children and trusted the fate of the killer to “a just God.” Within hours after the shooting, members of the Amish community visited and comforted the immediate and extended family of the killer, later attended the killer’s funeral, and even set up a charitable fund for the family.

What made the Amish community able to forgive and love so quickly after experiencing a tragedy beyond what most of us will deal with in our lives? Did they really “get over” their hurt that quickly? Was it all fake and for show? I don’t believe so. The community faced some criticism for their quick forgiveness and critics equated it to being in denial of the evil that exists, but I believe they rightly viewed the evil acts and their RESPONSIBILITY to show mercy and love as two separate things. I intentionally emphasize that word because we have to remember that claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ gives us no choice but to forgive. And it’s time we stop treating it like it’s an option based on how we feel at any given point.

In Romans 12:9-21, the Apostle Paul gives us a series statements about what love actually looks like when it is acted out. Not surprisingly, roughly two-thirds of this section is devoted to teaching us how we are to respond when met with evil or persecution. In verses 14-21, it’s pretty clear that Paul is telling us to do good to those who harm us. We are told to bless those who persecute us rather than look for ways to get them back (verse 14). We are supposed to live in peace and harmony with others to the best of our ability (verses 16-18). Could you imagine if the entire Amish community where the girls were killed did the opposite of this? That would mean they would band together to satisfy their desire for revenge against the dead killer and his family. His widow and children wouldn’t stand a chance. The response of the community toward that family meant everything. They did what they could to promote peace and unity, which allowed for healing and restoration to take place. I’m sure it didn’t always feel good. I’m sure they had thoughts of anger and thoughts straight from the devil about taking matters into their own hands. But they knew that if Jesus himself and many other martyrs could extend forgiveness to the very people who were taking their lives, how could followers of Jesus do anything else?

Paul tells us to not take revenge but to leave room for God to do so when and where necessary (verse 19). This reminds me of James, the brother of Jesus, who wrote that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). In other words, God is the ONLY One whose anger can bring about righteousness. So, if we leave the revenge to him, we can trust that he will give the perfect measure of justice and mercy to the one who has offended us. They will be forced to deal with their actions one way or another. Ultimately, we are to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Just think about it. If we become consumed with thoughts of bitterness and revenge, then we have been overcome by evil. Those who criticized the Amish community, in an effort to make sure they weren’t denying the existence of evil, were being overcome by it. In contrast, the response of forgiveness and love from the community literally overcame the evil that was done in a very short time. The killer’s widow now speaks publicly around the country about the love she received instead of being forever haunted by the knowledge that it was her husband who killed those girls and planned to do much more to them.

The words in this passage are not merely suggestions from Paul. They are teachings that come directly from the words of Jesus himself. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47) Jesus’ words show us that, if we want the reward of eternal life, we have to ACT like it. We cannot simply live as the pagans and tax collectors do, yet expect to receive a better eternity than them. The reference to the tax collectors wasn’t just about the profession. In that culture, they were commonly associated with wrongdoing because they had great incentive to overtax and cheat people out of money. This made them mostly despised by all. Jesus, who would later call Matthew the tax collector to be one of his disciples, uses THEIR cultural view of these people to stress his point that his followers are called to a higher standard than just loving and being kind to only those who don’t hurt us.

Are you ready to be more than a tax collector? Who do you have in your life right now that has hurt you and makes you think about revenge? What can you do this very day to begin to overcome that evil with good? Jesus has given a clear standard that you can’t act like a “tax collector” or “pagan” on earth but expect to be treated better than them in heaven. If we want to consider ourselves saved and redeemed by the blood of Christ, then forgiveness and mercy towards those who harm or persecute us is not optional. Start today by asking God to show you who you need to forgive. Ask him for strength, then leave any necessary vengeance to him.

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