No Greater Love

No greater love exists, Jesus said, than to lay down your life for a friend. A man I know of did just that. It's a story that's especially poignant for the Christmas season, for it reminds us that the Light Christ brought to the world 2,000 years ago still shines brightly, even in the darkest places. The story is set in World War II. When Adolf Hitler occupied Poland in 1939, he rounded up not only Jews, but all sorts of other "undesirable elements" who might oppose him. At the top of the list were Catholic priests. And that's how Father Maximilian Kolbe, a gentle monk committed to evangelism, ended up in Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp. It was a death camp: Jews were exterminated outright, and non-Jewish prisoners were worked to death. In this place of despair, Father Kolbe brought hope to his fellow inmates. He heard their confessions, he prayed with them, he shared his meager rations with them. Ragged, bone-thin, the prisoners loved Father Kolbe; they saw in him the love of Christ. But the real test came one summer morning in 1941, when the men from Father Kolbe's barracks were called out and ordered to stand in formation. The commandant screamed at them in fury. An inmate has escaped, he shrieked. Escaped! And who will pay the price? You will. Ten of you will be sent to the starvation bunker. The prisoners swayed in terror. Anything was better than the starvation bunker—death on the gallows, a bullet in the head, even the gas chambers. These were quick compared to a slow, excruciating death without food or water. The commandant walked the rows, randomly choosing 10 prisoners. One by one, the men's numbers were written down. One by one, they bowed their heads in despair. But one man couldn't hold back his agony. "My poor wife!" he cried out. "My children! What will they do?" Suddenly a prisoner stepped forward. "Halt!" cried the commandant. "What does this Polish pig want of me?" The prisoners gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe. The priest spoke softly. "I want to die in this man's place," he said, pointing to the prisoner sobbing for his family. There was a silence for a moment in the death-camp of Auschwitz. The weeping prisoner, Francis Gajowniczek, stared in amazement. The other inmates held their breath. Then the Nazi commandant roughly pulled Kolbe from the ranks. The condemned men were taken to the starvation bunker. But something strange happened. Over the next few days, instead of hearing the usual screaming and moaning, all who came near the death cells heard the faint sound of singing. Father Kolbe led his flock through the valley of the shadow. And in the end, he joined the Savior whose love he had showed so well. Francis Gajowniczek, the inmate who had cried out for his family, was one of the few who survived Auschwitz. And he spent the rest of his life telling and retelling the story of Father Kolbe, the man who died in his place—who gave him a new life. This Christmas season, shouldn't you and I resolve in our hearts to be like Francis Gajowniczek? For we, too, were condemned to die, but our Savior laid down His life in our place. We, too, are living a new life. Surely we can do no less than spend the rest of our lives telling and retelling the story. Part 3 in a series on The Body.


Chuck Colson


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