“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own.”
Who can forget the dramatic events that took place on October 2nd, 2006? Charles Roberts IV, a 32 year old milk-truck driver, drove his three children to school and told them goodbye. He left and went back home to get a 9mm pistol, a shotgun, a rifle, a stun gun, two knives, smokeless powder and 600 rounds of ammunition. He brought a five gallon bucket filled with tools that included a hammer, a hacksaw, pliers and rolls of clear tape. He also brought a change of clothes.
He drove to the West Nickel Mines Amish School. He walked into the one-room school house and showed the children his semi-automatic pistol. He let all fifteen boys leave. He also let a pregnant woman and three adults leave. He then bound the ten trembling little girls together by the ankles, ages six to thirteen, with wire and plastic ties and lined them up at the backboard. He called his wife to say he loved her and that he wouldn’t be coming home tonight. By that time, State troopers had arrived at the scene. Roberts looked outside and then walked up behind the girls and began to shoot each girl in the back of the head at close range. The police stormed the school at the sound of gun shots. They broke windows and climbed inside to find Roberts and three girls dead and eight critically wounded. This is what was reported in the morning news on Tuesday (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 3rd, 2006).
But there was more to the story. The families of the victims immediately forgave their child’s killer. They sought to forgive and to heal not only their loved ones, but also the relatives of the murderer. They reached out to console Robert’s wife and children. They spoke of God’s Will, and that they were full of hurt and not of hate.
But there was even more to the story. Three days after the incident, and as the death toll climbed to five little girls, one survivor, Barbie Fisher, began to speak of bravery, of courage and of Christ! His hand had been there too. His fingerprints were all over the classroom on that gruesome morning. It just took three days to find them.
It is impossible that Christ would not have been present at the scene – to not have entered into the locked room before the Police did. The doors may have been locked and barricaded, but that had never stopped Christ from going where he had to go, especially wherever a Christian community was fearful and yet alive and present.
It turns out that the two oldest girls in the school had made a deal with Roberts. Barbie Fisher told the story of her older sister, thirteen year old Marian, who faced death with “remarkable bravery.” Before the shooting began, she told Roberts, “You can shoot me first”, offering up her life in an attempt to save her terrified younger classmates. Then another, twelve year old Anna Mae Stoltzfus, stepped up and said, “You can shoot me second.” Both girls were laid to rest.
People were amazed that girls so young would offer themselves up. One person said that she knew a lot of adults who wouldn’t do that. They had offered their lives. Why did they do that? What strength did they receive to do that? Where did they learn to do that? From Jesus Christ. “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down on my own.” So death that day had been cheated.
The goal of every Christian is to imitate the life of the Lord. The circumcised believers criticized the Holy Father, Pope Peter, for entering the house of uncircumcised people and eating with them. Peter’s answer was very pastoral and patient. But he could have given them an answer that was sharp and short: I went into their home because the Lord would have done the same thing!
Never fear. Every day the Lord will provide to us, his followers, opportunities to imitate His Son. He will also provide the graces necessary to respond faithfully to them. He will give us an opportunity today to be forgiving to someone, to be generous to another, to seek and find, to serve my neighbor or a stranger, to welcome a guest, to speak the truth, to share the faith, to spend time in prayer and to die to self.
Our life is a gift from God. You can either wait for it to end or you can offer it up to Him. What are you waiting for? There are only two options: either it can be taken or it can be given. Choose Life! Give your life! Do not be afraid to do His Will, follow His path, to see how He sees. Do not be afraid to live life to the full and pour it all out!
Let us lay down our life to the only one who can raise it from the dead.