The Brandenburg Gate, a German national monument to grandeur, retells the glory and shame of a nation. Stolen by Napoleon and abused by Hitler, it reflects militarism, fascism, division, reunification. We are there as tourists this time, with Grandma and Pépé visiting. At the foot of the Gate there are numerous artists entertaining the crowds. One catches our attention—the Silver Man. He glistens in the sun. He has spray-painted his entire body silver, including every inch of skin. He stands on a box, and when a passerby throws some coins into his hat he moves like a robot for a few seconds. His gaze never fixes on the onlookers; rather, he stares past them.
My children are mesmerized. They ask to make him work. I scrounge around in my wallet for a few lonely coins. One of my boys timidly walks up and throws the coins into the hat. The Silver Man starts moving slowly and mechanically as he had done before, but this time he glances down at his hat and stops. He gets off of his box, picks up our coins, and fixes his gaze on me. He starts toward me, getting too close for comfort. When he reaches me, he takes my hand, opens it, slaps the coins back into my hand, and asks how much I make per hour.
I am stunned. Shocked, I stand there frozen for what seems like endless minutes. I feel anger bubbling up within me and turn away from my silver adversary. I start walking around aimlessly. I never have thought very well on my feet, but now all the things I could have said to lash back come rising up in my mind! Considering that he only moved for a few seconds, a few coins could add up to a pretty respectable hourly pay. He is really only begging—how dare he be so ungrateful? Beggars can’t be choosers! The anger continues to rise in me until it overflows. I am usually a very quiet and self-controlled person; now I was surprised to hear myself yelling, “I hate Germany! I hate Germans!” again and again. To my great shame, the words were spilled at the foot of the monument that represents the nation I am supposed to love and serve. They came right there in front of my kids who are supposed to remember me for my great love for Germany, the country that is now theirs.
In my mind, this event for many years represented the response of so many to the message of grace we were bringing to them. Though poor and needy like the Silver Man, they refused the help the message offered. They were angry, defined by their wounds, but leading outward lives of silvery glitz. Were we casting our pearls before swine? It was so painful to have the pearl of grace slapped back into our hands!
Years later, an even more painful truth percolates through my soul. It is the truth that I myself am the Silver Man, and that he and I are blood relatives. The blow that the Silver Man had dealt me slashed open a wound full of putrescence—criticism, slander, rudeness, rejection—which I had been carrying on my back for many years. It all got stuffed in the wound. Any time any German hurt me, the boil grew. I was just like the Silver Man. He was defined by his wounds; so was I. The wound became part of my act. I was weighed down by it and could only move mechanically. I was angry that people around me were not applauding me for the sacrifices I had made, not accepting me with the message I was bringing, not throwing enough coins into my hat to make me feel I was worth something.
My act was gilded with silvery dust. Did I believe the message I was preaching from atop my missionary box, that God does not love me based on my performance but that He sees through the silver dust right into my heart? Did I really believe that I am just a beggar and cannot impress God with my act? Did I fully understand that God wants me to be rid of my wound and that He will carry it Himself? Did I realize that He wants me to step off my performance box and get down into the crowd, looking them in the eye with sadness and love instead of anger?
God used a silver beggar to lance my wound at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate. In reality, it was at the foot of the cross that Jesus, betrayed for silver coins, bore my wounds and was lanced for me. In His hour of greatest trial He did not shout out, “I hate Germany! I hate Germans!” Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” The monument to my shame and the place of my healing and glory are one and the same: the cross. May the Brandenburg Gate someday stand as a monument to the healing and glory of the nation of Germany as silver men and women, one by one, understand that they were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from their forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). May they decide to get off their boxes and trust in the One who can give hope and meaning to their lives.
© 2013 Thrive.
Question to consider: Eowyn asks “Did I believe the message I was preaching from atop my missionary box, that God does not love me based on my performance but that He sees through the silver dust right into my heart?” How do you fight the urge to perform?