…and a large crowd went along with him (entering the city)…and a large crowd from the town was with her (leaving the city).”
A collision at the city gate!! A crowd of death is leaving the city while a crowd of life is entering – they collide at the city gate. The first crowd, serenaded by the haunting melody of a death dirge, huddles under the cloud of despair surrounding a broken woman. The second, high stepping to the drumbeat of life, is lead by Jesus.
The two crowds could not be more distinct and they proceed on a collision course – a clash between the forces of death and life. They meet at the city gate, a place of battle in the ancient world. Here, a place for hand-to-hand combat as invaders try to storm a city while the residents try to defend it, is where Jesus and the parade of life come face to face with death and despair. Something had to give. Someone had to move.
The followers of Jesus stop and step aside as the procession shadows by. The shroud of pain muffles the laughter of the disciples. No one speaks. What would they say if they did?
When Jesus first saw the woman at a distance, his heart breaks. As the procession carries her near to him, he speaks – “Don’t cry.” Startled, she is shocked as she looks into this stranger’s face. What kind of irresponsible statement is this to a woman who has just lost all hope?
The parade screeches to a halt while Jesus stares at the lifeless body on the stretcher. The crowds (both of them) become deafly silent. Overwhelmed with emotion, Jesus turns his attentionto the dead boy, “Young man,” his voice calm and confident, “I say to you, rise.”
While the living look on breathlessly, the dead son begins to breathe.
Jesus then “gives the young man back to his mother.” Jesus not only raised the young man, but he also gave back to the woman her only chance of survival. For a woman of the ancient world, security was based on having a large family, especially sons. In the case of this widow, the only two men in her life were now dead. She was the epitome of vulnerability; the parade of death would surely scoop her up next. However, Jesus, the giver of life, collides with this procession of death and is filled with profound compassion for her.
What weapon of combat did Jesus use to disarm the power of death at the city gate? What sword does he wield? Nothing. He comes to do battle armed with only one thing – compassion. Any boot camp officer will tell subjects in training that this is the worst possible thing to do in battle, claiming that the moment you begin to have compassion in the face of an enemy will likely be the moment you get yourself killed. Compassion makes us vulnerable, doesn’t it?
One year ago in Guatemala City, Tita Evertz sat in despair, seeing life being snuffed out of the largest slum in Central America known as “La Limonada” – a place and a people for whom she had poured out her life for almost 20 years. A parade of death in the form of extortions, turf wars, rivalry, sexual abuse, domestic violence, a barrage of killings and environmental disregard were sucking the breath out of the lungs of the community she loved. During a period of desperate prayer fueled with love and compassion, Tita felt lead to begin weekly prayer walks down the alleys, into the homes and through the streets of La Limonada. They began Wednesday morning prayer walks in May of 2015 and haven’t missed a Wednesday morning since. A ragtag “crowd” of life began humbly meandering through La Limonada on a direct collision course with the brazen crowd of death.
They set out to confront the crowds of death not as conquerors with clenched fists and matching t-shirts on a mission to “take back the streets for Jesus,” but instead, in the Spirit of Christ, they went armed only with compassion and love. There were no immediate, dramatic results – miraculous resurrections of the dead or immediate cease fire agreements between rival gangs. However, after only one year, the gradual surge of change resulting from the persistent Wednesday morning prayer walks has been nothing short of miraculous. Life is conquering death while sons and daughters are being given back to their mothers.
The people of La Limonada, as a result of seeing the “crowd of life” walking and praying in their midst, have been empowered to lay hold of a new reality as opposed to the one they thought they must endure. The violence has dramatically decreased, an the marches of prayer and song have given hope, bolstered faith and fostered a unity of purpose unlike anything they had previously experienced.
Residents of the community, while initially choosing to stay shut up in their homes, now open their windows and come to their doors when the singing and praying reaches their ears. They join the parade as the choir of life slowly but consistently grows. Some even take turns leading, directing the ensemble to the broken, hidden places of the community where neighbors and family members are drowning in despair. In both the town of Nain thousands of years ago and in La Limonada today, when the compassion-filled crowd of life lead by the resurrected Jesus clashes with that of the crowd of death, the melody of life dispels the dirge of darkness and…
Joel Van Dyke
Director, Urban Training Collaborative
Guatemala City, Guatemala