The 'Nuremberg Trials' were held between 1945 and 1946 in the city where only two decades before the Nazi's first rallied their faithful before taking power in Germany. 25 Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 12 were sentenced to death. Of these, most were Protestant by religion.
Henry Goreke, an American Army chaplain was asked if he might provide the convicted men with spiritual counsel before they were executed, according to military protocol (it was a military court). At first he declined the request, but later agreed, saying that his Christian convictions and conscience would not allow him to refuse. Goreke was a Lutheran, and as such trusted fully in the sufficiency of the Grace of God to cover all sins, however heinous.
In his memoirs Pastor Goreke recalls how some, though not all, of these convicted Nazis repented of their sins, accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and received the Holy Sacrament before going to the gallows.
It is unjust - in worldly terms - to think that these monsters (and they were monsters) could receive the forgiveness of God in their final hour, not despite, but because of the evil they had done. And, what's more, if there is a hell, these 'architects of the holocaust' won't be there. Where's the 'justice' in that? No wonder Goreke was himself reviled a 'traitor' and 'Jew-hater'.
Throughout history there have been scores of 'monsters' who have freely embraced the Gift of Grace, freely given, including the notorious child killer Myra Hindley.
Some years ago I took part in the Three Thinking Programme, a professional development course based in Liverpool. As part of this course we did an exercise where our life span was marked out according to the hours of the day. We can apply the Parable of the Workers in a similar way, whereby the time periods by which the workers are taken on correspond to the point in life when we might receive Christ and enter His Kingdom.
- 9am - childhood/adolescence
- 12noon - young adulthood
- 3pm - early midlife
- 5pm - late midlife (onwards)
Hence, whenever we accept the Gift of Grace/become a believer/are converted/saved, at whatever stage in our earthly life, the deal is the same. The same rate of pay. No hierarchy of greed. Mother Theresa will be treated exactly the same as Myra Hindley. Pope Francis as Joachim von Ribbentrop, leading Nazi and former German Foreign Minister, who gave his life to Christ before his execution in 1946.
So outrageous is this message, that the Book of Acts records that it caused outrage wherever it was proclaimed, often leading to rioting on the streets.
Jesus concluded the Parable of the Workers with these words, "...the last will be first, and the first will be last." Who are the last? Are they not the least respected? Who are 'the last' for us? For Henry Goreke 'the last' were those 12 Nazi war criminals incarcerated in a Nuremberg prison, waiting for the noose. And oblivion.