We’re all in this scene. Everyone. If only among the bystanders. Keeping a low profile. Not wanting to make trouble or draw attention to ourselves, our families, our churches. But if the best thing that can be said about bystanders is that they didn’t get their names in the paper, realize that could also be the worst thing about them. When Jesus prays, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing,” isn’t that an intercession on behalf of the bystanders also?
Of the last judgment, Jesus tells the story in Matthew 25 about people asking, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger, or needing clothing, sick or in prison, and not help you?” (v. 37). To which Jesus says, “Honestly, you just described a lot of people here—and whatever you didn’t do for them, you didn’t do for me” (v. 40). Ouch.
In the face of the systemic racial inequality in this nation, what would Jesus say? What will our children say? Of the exploitation of our earth’s resources, what will be said? Of our response to famine and natural disaster? To unjust imprisonment of so much of our population? To endless warring? Amassing of wealth? Are we not at the very least bystanders, if not more directly involved?
In his 2016 song, “Take Me to the Alley,” Gregory Porter sings:
Well, they gild their houses in preparation for the King,
And they line the sidewalks with every sort of shiny thing.
They will be surprised when they hear him say,
“Take me to the alley, take me to the afflicted ones.
Take me to the lonely ones that somehow lost their way.
Let them hear me say, ‘I am your friend, Come to my table
Rest here in my garden. You will have a pardon.’”
When did we see the Lord suffering and not help? Where is this alley?
God, thank you for extending your grace even to those standing on the sidelines. Help me get off of the sidelines. Mobilize my prayer into actions. Amen.