During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.
Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.
One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.
He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.
He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.
I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.
Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It
A wealthy sultan of the Muslim faith, Saladin, once approached Nathan the Wise, a Jewish scholar, with a question: “Your reputation for wisdom is great,” said the Sultan. “You must have studied the great religions. Tell me, which is the best, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity?”
Nathan the Wise found himself in a predicament. If he answered “Judaism” his Islamic friend would be insulted, but if he answered “Islam” he would lose his own integrity. Nathan the Wise thought for a moment then responded with a parable.
“Once upon a time there was a king who possessed a magnificent opal ring. It glowed with thousands of colours, but its true power lay in the fact that it made a person beloved of God and others. For many generations the ring was passed down from parent to favourite child, until finally it came to a king who had three children all equally favoured. What was the King to do? He decided to fashion two more rings, each identical in appearance to the original. He then gave one to each child, with each believing they had the original ring.
But instead of harmony the three rings brought conflict. Each child believed they possessed the true ring and therefore the right to inherit the throne. The tension was escalated when the rings were examined but differences between them could not be determined.”
At this point Saladin interrupts. “But surely my friend you are not suggesting that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are the same? Surely there are great differences between them?”
“You are right Saladin” replied Nathan, “but each of these religions is based on faith and belief, and who can prove that one is superior to the other? But let me continue with my tale, for it is nearly at an end.”
“The quarrel among the three children became so great it was brought before a judge. The judge listened as each child explained their case. When the time for judgement came all listened with great interest. ‘I have been asked to decide which of these rings is the original.” began the judge. ‘As the original ring made its wearer beloved of God and people I can only conclude that none of you have the original ring, for your rings have brought hatred and strife between you. None of you is loved by the other, so I must conclude that the original ring perished with your father and that all three you possess are counterfeits. Or it may be, that you father, was weary of the tyranny of a single ring, and made duplicates which he gave you. So let each of you prove his belief in his ring by conducting yourselves in a manner that befits those beloved of God and people.”
Source: Adapted from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan der Weise (1779).
Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.
“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”
“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.
When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”
Leonardo Da Vinci, the noted Italian artist, painted the Last Supper. It took seven years for him to complete it. The figures representing the twelve Apostles and Christ himself were painted from living persons. The life-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first.
When it was decided that Da Vinci would paint this great picture, hundreds and hundreds of young men were carefully viewed in an endeavour to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from the scars and signs of dissipation caused by sin.
Finally, after weeks of laborious search, a young man nineteen years of age was selected as a model for the portrayal of Christ. For six months Da Vinci worked on the production of this leading character of his famous painting. During the next six years Da Vinci continued his labours on this sublime work of art. One by one fitting persons were chosen to represent each of the eleven Apostles – with space being left for the painting of the figure representing Judas Iscariot as the final task of this masterpiece.
This was the Apostle, you remember, who betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. For weeks Da Vinci searched for a man with a hard, callous face, with a countenance marked by scars of avarice, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime. A face that would delineate a character who would betray his best friend.
After many discouraging experiences in searching for the type of person required to represent Judas, word came to Da Vinci that a man whose appearance fully met his requirements had been found in a dungeon in Rome, sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder. Da Vinci made the trip to Rome at once, and this man was brought out from his imprisonment in the dungeon and led out into the light of the sun. There Da Vinci saw before him a dark, swarthy man his long shaggy and unkempt hair sprawled over his face, which betrayed a character of viciousness and complete ruin. At last the famous painter had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas in his painting. By special permission from the king, this prisoner was carried to Milan where the picture was being painted. For months he sat before Da Vinci at appointed hours each day as the gifted artist diligently continued his task of transmitting, to his painting, this base character representing the traitor and betrayer of our Saviour.
As he finished his last stroke, he turned to the guards and said, I have finished. You may take the prisoner away. As the guards were leading their prisoner away, he suddenly broke loose from their control and rushed up to Da Vinci, crying as he did so, “Da Vinci, look at me. Do you not know who I am?” Da Vinci, with the trained eyes of a great character student, carefully scrutinized the man upon whose face he had constantly gazed for six months and replied, “No, I have never seen you in my life until you were brought before me out of the dungeon in Rome.”
Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said, “Oh God, have I fallen so low?” Then turning his face to the painter he cried, “Leonardo Da Vinci, look at me again for I am the same man you painted just seven years ago as the figure of Christ.”