On a brutal winter night a knock was heard at the door of tiny church in a Serbian village. The priest, opening the door, saw standing before him a young woman. She was a Romani – a “gypsy” – from one of the nearby Roma ghettos where her people were confined. She was cold, hungry, and desperate.
The priest took her in, built a roaring fire, found warm blankets, and prepared a meal. She began to tell her story of how the Serbian militia had come to eradicate her neighborhood. Her family was certainly dead, as were all her neighbors. Should she return home, she would face the same fate.
The next day, the priest gathered elders from the church to discuss this poor woman’s fate. The priest said, “We must treat her as Jesus himself. ‘I came to you hungry, thirsty, and naked,’ our Lord said. Turning her away would be like turning Jesus away. This is what the Scriptures teach us.”
One of the more pragmatic leaders objected: “Father, if we shelter this woman, it will put the entire congregation in jeopardy. The authorities will eventually discover her, or the army will come here looking for escapees from the ghetto. They will arrest us all – or worse! All authority has been established by God, and we must submit to the authorities, for that is what Scripture teaches.”
The debate raged: The priest demanding compassion no matter the cost; and on the other side, caution, pragmatism, and self-preservation. Most of the other elders waffled back and forth, uncertain of what to do. They wanted to help, but did not want to bring harm to their families.
At the height of the dispute there was another knock at the church door. Voices fell silent and everyone froze in dread. After a moment the priest walked to the door and opened it. There in the entryway stood a thunderous angel of God! There was no doubt that this was a heavenly messenger sent to settle the dispute! The assembly fell to their faces in reverence and shock.
The angel reached down and gently lifted the priest from the floor. Placing a fiery hand on the priest’s shoulder, he said, “Child, the elder advocating for caution is correct. To protect this church and town, you must surrender the woman to the authorities. Is it not better that one person be handed over, than for many to suffer or perish?”
The priest, with tears running down his cheeks, fell back to his knees before the angel of the Lord and answered, “I have loved and served God all the days of my life, but I cannot obey this commandment, for Jesus has shown me what I must do.”
The elders clutched the stone floor, bracing for a thunderbolt of judgment to strike the priest. But lifting their eyes, they saw the mighty angel’s head thrown back in joyful laughter, and they heard him give God’s reply: “Yes,” he said, “that is the correct answer.”
Photo by Daniel von Appen