The scene is etched in my mind as vividly today as it was more than 40 years ago. It was one of those sweltering July days in the summer of 1968. We were waiting for the traffic light to change at an intersection in New York City’s Bowery. We often returned from our home in southern Connecticut to New York City to visit Dad’s childhood neighborhood. New York City was in Dad’s blood. Somehow he wanted his children to understand their heritage. Dad’s stories of growing up in the city were priceless family treasures.
In the late 1960s, sections of the Bowery were havens for people using alcohol to escape from the reality of life. The run-down apartments, dingy storefront bars, and trash-littered street told tragic stories of broken lives.
As I sat gazing out the window at the unshaven, bleary-eyed men lying on the sidewalk, I noticed a red-faced man staggering over to the car. As he approached he simply said, “Could you spare a man a dollar?” A dollar to buy another drink, no! But food, yes! We rummaged around and came up with a semblance of a lunch.
As I handed it to him, he reached through the window and pulled my face toward his. The stench of alcohol on his breath was overpowering. As I looked into those bloodshot, blue-green eyes, he quietly said, “Thank You, Jesus,” and walked away.
Although years have passed since our chance encounter, his words have lingered in my mind. I have wondered: If Jesus were here today, where would He be? Would He be basking in the comfort of His suburban home writing books about reaching city people? Or would He be ministering to the poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged and pointing the educated, sophisticated, and wealthy to life’s true meaning?
Jesus loves the cities because that’s where people are, and Jesus loves people. The gospel record is too plain to be misunderstood: Jesus immersed Himself in the lives of people in cities. He brought hope to the hopeless, peace to the troubled, forgiveness to the guilty, and power to the powerless. His ministry in the cities was not only to those who were economically disadvantaged. It was also to the wealthy who were spiritually impoverished. Jesus appealed to young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, religious and skeptical.
Luke’s Gospel states: “Now as he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41). You can never weep until you draw near. Your heart can never be broken in love over the city until you behold it in its raw wildness.
If we pause long enough, we may hear Jesus’ sobs—the heartbroken, agonizing cries for lost people in the cities. If we have little interest in reaching lost people, are we really following the One who came “to seek and to save that which was lost?” If the burden of His heart is not the burden of our hearts, are we fully surrendered to Him?
The call of the cities is a call to passionate prayer. It is a call to members living in the cities to compassionately witness to their friends and neighbors. It is a call to young people to dedicate a year of their lives to mission. It is an appeal to church leaders to plan comprehensive strategies to reach the cities of their territories with the three angels’ messages. It is an urgent appeal to reallocate our financial resources.
In this crisis hour, when we are living on the knife-edge of eternity, the status quo will not do. God calls for our best efforts and all our commitment. In the light of His incredible love and the immense sacrifice He made for us, can we do any less?
Adapted from the article “Jesus’ Heart Cry” in the October 2011 issue of Adventist World. Used by permission.
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