For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall. Ephesians 2:14 NAS
“Annie” sat in my back yard in Africa and showed me her scars. “This is where he hit me with a belt. This is where he got me with a tree branch.” Sadly, the culture in the country where I served believed a man had every right to keep his wife in line by hitting her. And his family was welcome to join right in.
“My mother-in-law was the worst,” Annie told me. “She’d drag me out of the hut and call my husband to come beat me. She’d get furious if I didn’t help her cook. Sometimes, she even hit me herself.”
And so, Annie fled her little village to go live with her own mother in the capital city, where I met her. We became fast friends, and after a time, she gave her life to Christ. Once a week, we’d have a Bible study on my porch. Annie couldn’t read, so what we really had was a story-telling session. I’d either tell a Bible story in her language or play one for her on tape, and then I’d ask her all sorts of questions to help her understand and apply those truths to her life. Week by week, we walked through the life of Christ.
The day we covered the crucifixion, I asked her this question: “Jesus died on the cross saying ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’ Since we are supposed to be like Jesus, is there anyone you need to forgive?”
Annie thought a moment. “Yes,” she said. “My mother-in-law. Just a few days ago, she sent a messenger from our village to me to beg my forgiveness, because she is old and ill. She can no longer cook or even bathe herself, and there is no one to take care of her. She asked me to come back and do it.”
I sat there with my mouth open. Really? Forgive the monster who drug you to your snake husband to have you beaten? Quite frankly, when I’d asked the question, Annie’s mother-in-law and her husband were the furthest people from my mind. I despised them.
And yet, I knew the culture. Old women were cared for by their daughters-in-law. There were no nursing homes, no state institutions to step in. Men didn’t fill the role of caregivers, and there are some things a son can’t do for his mother anyway.
Annie and I sat there in the shade of my porch for several quiet moments. “I need to go home and do it,” she said.
And she did. She traveled back to her rural village and moved in with her mother-in-law. She cooked for her. She fed her. She helped her to the outside latrine, and she bathed her – the woman who had made life hell. Annie’s husband was around, but she didn’t get back together with him. When her task was done with her mother-in-law, she left again. But for the time she was there, he left her alone. He could not strike this living picture of Christ’s forgiveness.
Annie made this verse come alive for me. Jesus was truly her “peace,” the peace between herself and her husband’s extended family. No power on earth except Christ himself could have worked that kind of forgiveness in Annie’s heart. It was forgiveness of deed – she took action on it. I still stand amazed.
When Paul wrote this verse, he was talking about Jews and Gentiles, two groups who had been brought together in Christ despite their differences. He Himself is our peace, able to take down the dividing walls of Jews and Gentiles, husbands and wives, estranged siblings, two co-workers, factions of church members, parents and kids. With Christ in our lives, we can truly forgive. We can act on the forgiveness. We can have peace.
Christ – our peace.