“Father, forgive them ...” (Luke 23:34)
No prayer ever offered has moved the hearts of those who heard it as has this prayer from the Cross.
Today, I was reminded of a story told by The White Angel of Tokyo, independent Canadian missionary, Miss Caroline Macdonald. Allow me to share the story with you.
Tokichi Ishii was born in heathenism: his father was an inveterate drunkard: his mother was the daughter of a Shinto priest. Up to the time of his death he only knew two Christians; and he met them during the brief period of his last imprisonment. At the age of thirteen he had to decide whether he would steal or starve. Stealing, he spent most of his time in jail; and, immediately upon his release, he committed some new felony or murder which once more brought the police upon his trail. On 29th April 1915 his career of crime reached a hideous climax. He murdered a geisha girl who waited upon him at a tea-house near Tokyo.
Ishii crept away from the tea-house without leaving any clue that could lead to the conviction of the culprit. However, some time afterwards, when he was imprisoned on another charge, he over-heard his fellow prisoners discussing the tea-house murder. A man named Komori, the lover of the girl, was, they said, being tried for the murder of the geisha. Within the grimy soul of Ishii a knight lay slumbering, and this startling news awoke him. “For a moment,” Ishii says, “I could scarcely believe my ears. But upon inquiry I found that the men knew the facts, and that it was actually true, that an innocent man - the lover of the dead girl - was on trial for murder. I began to think. What must be the feeling and the suffering of this innocent Komori? What about his family and relatives? I cannot imagine the agony that must be theirs. I kept on thinking; and, at last, I decided to confess my guilt and save the innocent Komori.”
As he lay awaiting execution, Miss Macdonald sent him an appetizing dinner. He refused to eat it. She then sent him a Japanese New Testament. He refused at first to read it. Later, however, the curiosity proved too much for his pride. He read the story of the shepherd seeking his lost sheep. It intrigued him and he tried again. “This time,” he says, “I read how Jesus was handed over to Pilate by his enemies, was tried unjustly and put to death by crucifixion. As I read this I began to think. Even I, hardened criminal that I was, thought it a shame that His enemies should have treated him in that way. I went on, and my attention was next taken by these words: And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. I stopped. I was stabbed to the heart as if pierced by a five-inch nail. Through that one sentence I was led to Christ!”
Ishii went to the scaffold still marveling at the ineffable grace that, even on the Cross, could invoke the forgiveness of its persecutors.
The impact of Caroline Macdonald’s obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and her sending of the Japanese New Testament to Ishii, was life-changing and eternal. Whose to say just how invaluable and far-reaching our contributions to the Kingdom of God may prove to be when, in simple trust, we obey God’s Spirit; often in the seemingly ordinary and mundane. A simple ‘word in season’, a gospel leaflet left on a train or bus seat, or the sending of a Scripture text in a card, for example, could be the difference between eternal life or eternal death.