The Brandenburg Gate. A German national monument to grandeur, it retells the glory and shame of a nation. Stolen by Napoleon and abused by Hitler. Militarism, fascism, division, reunification. We are there as tourists this time. Grandma and Pépé are visiting.
At the foot of the Gate numerous artists entertain the crowds. One catches our attention. The Silver Man. He glistens in the sun. He has spray-painted every inch of skin silver. He stands on a box, and when a passer-by 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. This time he glances down at his hat and stops. He gets off of his box, picks up our coins, and directs his gaze to me. He starts toward me. He’s 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. I stand there frozen for what seems like minutes. I feel anger bubbling up within me and turn away from my silver adversary. I start walking around aimlessly. I don’t think well on my feet. All the things I could have said to lash back! Considering he only moved for a few seconds, a few coins add up to a pretty respectable hourly pay. He’s 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 quiet and self-controlled, so I was surprised to hear myself yelling, again and again, “I hate Germany, I hate Germans.”
Pearls Before Swine?
To my great shame, the words were spilled at the foot of the monument that represents the nation I’m supposed to love and serve. 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.
For many years this event represented in my mind the response of so many to the message of grace we had been ministering in Germany. Though poor and needy like the Silver Man, they refused the help the message offered. Angry, defined by their wounds, they lead 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: I am the Silver Man. He and I are blood relatives. The blow dealt me by the Silver Man slashed open a putrid wound I had been carrying on my back for many years: criticism, slander, rudeness, rejection. It all got stuffed in the wound. Any time any German hurt me, the boil grew. I was just like him. 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 no one applauded me for the sacrifices I made and didn’t accept the message I brought. They didn’t throw 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 doesn’t love me based on my performance, that he sees through the silver dust right into my heart? Did I believe, that, really, I am just a beggar who cannot impress God with my act? That he wants to carry my wound himself and rid me of such sickness? That he wants me to step off my performance box, get down into the crowd, and look them in the eye with sadness instead of anger? God used a silver beggar to lance my wound at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate. But 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 are one and the same: the cross. May the Brandenburg Gate some day stand as a monument to the healing of Germans 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 ).