My heart aches. My heart aches for the awful violence happening in our world, and specifically in our country, and even more specifically in our schools. As my heart aches, I see different reactions on socials: discussions of gun control, mental health, and school safety. All of these are really important topics that must be discussed, as it is very apparent that things need to change, but my mind has been wrestling with something else; something I haven’t seen a lot of talk about: What is happening or not happening that leads so many of our young people to believe that committing an act of violence like this is their only option?
As story after story comes out about those who commits these acts, including most recently Nikolas; we hear about how there were telling signs in their lives. They kept to themselves, were outcast from the “normal” groups, and in his specific case even cast out of school all together.
When we read about Jesus and what he showed us about the Kingdom of God, over and over we are reminded that God runs to the ditches. God seeks out and calls to us to seek out those on the edges, those who have been forgotten, outcast, labeled as trouble and a problem. It is exactly these that Jesus runs to.
In the gospel of Luke, one of the accounts of Jesus in the Bible, Jesus was asked “How does one inherent eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – (Luke 10:25-37)
In this story, the two religious people who first encounter the man in the ditch walk away on the other side. This could have been because they were busy, it could have been because if they touched the man they would be unclean, it could have been because of many things; but it makes me want to ask “Is our religion and busyness getting in the way of loving our neighbor?”
It seems like our only call as people of faith is to run to the ditches, and walk with those who have been beaten, forgotten, and outcast; so why are we so quick to walk on the other side? Why are we so quick to go back to our busyness and not actually see change through? Why do we think it is up to someone else?
God has called me as a youth pastor to run to the ditches, but also to be a voice for those in them. There are teens literally dying from gun violence, from suicide, from so many other things because we have set up a system that gives them no purpose. We have sent them to schools and the community and churches have walked away as if it would be taken care of. I am calling out our churches, our community leaders, our retired, our business leaders; WE NEED YOU TO RUN TO THE DITCHES. We need you to walk alongside our students, teachers, and administrations because it takes the whole village. We need you, our young people need you, Nikolas needed you…
If you want to help out, talk to your local schools and ask what they need, volunteer to tutor, volunteer to encourage teachers. If you know how, get laws changed, do it. There is so much that can be done if we all are willing to run to the ditches.
May God open our eyes to those in our lives and to our young people who are left in the ditches. May our hearts be broken to do something more that thoughts and prayers. With God’s help, may we proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. May we surround each other with a community of love and forgiveness that we might grow in our service to others. May we pray for each other that we may be true disciples, who run to the ditches and walk in the way that leads to life. "Go and do likewise."