I was looking through excerpts from Schindler’s List to use for class, and watched the closing scene at the factory again. It’s the scene where Schindler whispers, “I could have saved more. If I’d made more money, I could have saved more.” One of the commenters on one of the videos said, “A false hero: ‘I’ve done so much.’ A true hero: ‘I could have done more.’ “
I’m not certain I would go that far, but the story of Oskar Schindler and other people in history backs into a question that came up in one of the religion classes recently: deeds vs. words. Specifically the topic was the difficulty some theologians have had with the New Testament “Book of James” and the exhortation that “faith without works is dead.” This seems to collide with “By Grace you are saved through faith, and not through works, that none may boast . . .” Setting aside the entire point that the two authors involved were writing to different people at different times and addressing different problems, this seems to be one of those places where Scripture contradicts itself. Martin Luther in particular disagreed with the writer of James, and considered the book to be at the least inferior, if not perhaps noncanonical. Since he was fighting a popular over-emphasis on works vs. faith and spiritual discipline, his difficulty is somewhat understandable. Somewhat.
Which takes us back to Schindler. By all accounts, he was not a “nice” person. His original motives for saving so many Jews were not, perhaps, the most saintly. And yet he was a good person, who did something very good. I suspect he was not the only person over the years who has been more motivated by “Oh yeah? Who are you to tell me what to do?” rather than pure altruism and saintliness. At the end of the movie, he reproaches himself for not doing more, not saving more people but instead spending his money on worldly pleasures. Itzhak Stern assures Schindler that Schindler has done more than many, and that “generations will live because of you.”
“I could have saved more.” It is a cry, a prayer from the heart, whispered to Itzhak. How many times have people whispered that confession, or something like it. “I could have done more. I could have helped more. If only I had . . .”
Faith and works. Works. Facto non Verbum – deeds, not words. How often have all of us gotten irritated with people who make wonderful, grand-sounding pronouncements and then don’t follow through. They don’t show up to help with the neighborhood clean up. They don’t keep a campaign promise. They “forget” to bring something to help with the school bake sale. Or to help cleaning the temple or synagogue or church or mosque. Or fail to make the promised donation to the hospital auxiliary fund raiser. And then come through with more wonderful words but no deeds.
Then you have the people who are not the public paragons of virtue but who do a lot of good. And those in between, ranging from the quiet folks who just seem to know where to be when with what, and who don’t want acknowledgment, to those who manage to follow through most of the time but not always. I certainly fall in the latter category. But I’m the kind who prefers hiding in the kitchen doing dishes, or cleaning the floor after the event, to mixing and mingling and being a good hostess at fundraisers. My warped sense of humor and rather cynical view of certain things makes me somewhat awkward at cocktail parties and fundraising banquets. More than once I’ve been assured that if lightning hits my current place of worship, no one will be surprised to find a smoking pile of ash under the remains of my hat. I don’t think I was supposed to take that as a compliment. (All I did was make a very bad and somewhat irreverent pun. I wasn’t the one who suggested putting club soda in the baptismal font to see if anyone would notice.)
I wonder if Schindler’s line resonates because so many of us have been in that position. We could have done more, although not on the scale or under the circumstances Schindler found himself in. But if you inspire one person, make one weary soul laugh, encourage one person to push past that final barrier and grasp success, helped one kid believe that he really could do it and he does . . .