March 9, 2020
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Luke 13:1-5
He sat across the table, arms folded against his chest, legs drumming nervously underneath. He looked at me, then stared at the table, then looked up again trying to decide if he could trust me with his question. This was our first real meeting, after all. And besides having both fought in Iraq, we didn’t seem to have much in common. When I got out, I found myself working in the church. He found himself in a motorcycle gang.
The tattoos painting his arms told part of his story. There was Jesus on the cross emblazoned on his shoulder. The names of two friends adorned his forearm. A rifle, grenade, and red RESET button were mixed in, too. How it all fit together only God knows.
Eventually, the questions came. The first was a well-aimed shot; after that they came in short, staccato bursts, like he was emptying a magazine of memories. You were over there…you had some close calls, right? You lose anybody? We had walked to the chow hall, but Ramirez stayed behind. It was a direct hit. He was one of the good ones, you know…of all people, why him?
He wanted answers. He wanted to know why God had taken his friend and let him live. But these were answers I didn’t have. Sure, I could talk about sin and living in a fallen world and how God is sovereignly in control of all things. But I could not actually tell him why his friend Ramirez died and why he was living with the scars.
Later that night, I sat in a corner thumbing through my Bible. I read again the passage from Luke 13. With two thousand years between us, it loses some of its sting. But what if you, like my friend, were one of the ones digging through the rubble? When the numbers have names and faces, how do you hear the Word then?
Gracious God, help us to remember that real people inhabit these stories. They are not figments of imagination, but people like us—who have hopes and dreams, who face pain and disappointment. In their stories, may we see ourselves, and be reminded of your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
About the Contributor:
Jason served for eight years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and is the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Melanie, have two children: Clara and Benjamin.