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Jesus Saw the Crowd...

The front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer told the tale… of “five shooters” who ambushed a group of “teenage football players” after a game at Roxborough High School.  The shooters jumped out of a Ford Explorer SUV “and began firing, unloading more than 60 shots, killing a 14year-old boy and wounding four others.”  The story tells the facts.  It is a story that has been told again and again over the last few years, with different details, but the same outcome- a tragic loss of life, a grieving community, and renewed calls for the end to gun violence.  We have heard the story so many times that we are not shocked.  For many of us, the news gets only a passing review before we move on to the concerns of our day.  We have become numb to the violence as we read headline after headline of shootings in our city.  But a phone call yesterday moved this story off the front page and into my prayer life.  I happened to speak with a teacher who knew the 14-year-old shooting victim from his social studies class last year.  The teacher asked me to pray for Nick and for his single mother, who had moved her son back into the family neighborhood to help him find a place where he might fit in.  That loving mother could not have imagined that her decision would put her son in the crosshairs of a violent interchange that would cost him his life.  By the end of the phone call yesterday, that 14-year-old shooting victim had a name, and a story, and a family who loved him and were now plunged into grief.

My heart hurts… there is a price to pay when we see the person in the midst of the “story.”

Many of you, who are in my generation and older, can remember an iconic picture that made the front pages during the Viet Nam war… of a child, a little girl, running naked down a country lane.  She looked terrified; her face streaked with tears.  The accompanying story told of napalm dropped on her village that set her clothes on fire, leaving her stripped and homeless… and on the front page of the paper.  I’ve always wondered about the heart of the photographer who opted to take her picture rather than scoop her up in blankets to protect her.  Last week, as the flood waters tore through Florida towns, an Australian cameraman left his post to run into flood waters to help a family move to safety.  Of course, others stayed behind their cameras capturing the heroic scene, and then the coverage moved on.  So many stories… so many tragedies… in Florida as Ian leaves destruction in her wake… in Haiti as poverty and violence leave people desperate for a new home… in Ukraine as Putin’s army rains terror on innocent civilians… in Philadelphia as violence steals away the innocence of children.  We read the stories, we see the news clips, and then we move on with our day, because if we stop to really ‘see’ the face there is a cost.

Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle (famed home of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir), tells the story of an Easter encounter. After the message that Sunday, Jim and his Elders offered prayer in the front of the sanctuary. A man approached Jim. He was disheveled like one who had lived a long time in the same clothes. He smelled of the streets- an odor so pungent that Jim stood at a distance, turning his face to catch a breath. Jim hoped that a few dollars would move the man along. But the man refused the money, asking instead for ‘this Jesus you talk about.’ That request broke Jim’s reserve, opening his eyes to the man before him. A hug, a conversation, an effort to find good rehab help, and finally a job in the ministry… and along the way, Jim discovered that this man had a name and a story just like all the others that we often miss. And Jim learned that the price we pay when we ‘see’ the person, is so much more than just a few dollars from our wallet. [If you want to hear Jim Cymbala tell the story-]

Matthew tells us that when Jesus went through the towns and villages, he “saw the crowd.” He saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Matthew tells us that when Jesus ‘saw’ he had “compassion on them.” He stopped to heal and teach and feed. He called his disciples to go into their villages to care for the people, bringing the good news that offers hope. Seeing… really seeing… has a cost, because seeing can move us from curiosity to compassion to commitment. This fall we are learning to obey Jesus’ command to ‘love thy neighbor’. The first step in really loving our neighbor is to see the face… to know the name… to take the time to hear the story. But truth be told, there is a cost to ‘seeing’ our neighbor. Who is the neighbor who needs to be ‘seen’ today? Are you willing to allow Jesus to move your heart from curiosity to compassion?

With you, learning to love my neighbor, 
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