A Gangland Story

Read:  Matt 5:43-47
Reflect:  My friend Joani has a rather challenging job.  She drives a Mr. Softee Truck on a sales route which can take her through some tough neighborhoods in New Jersey.  My favorite Joani story is the time she stopped and a group of large and rough looking guys lined up for ice cream.  Since they seemed to have matching tattoos, she assumed they were all part of the same gang.  After they got their ice cream, the guys stood aside as their leader came to the forefront and asked how much their bill was.  Joani, all alone in her truck, gave a broad smile and piped up how much he owed.  The guy looked her in the eye and demanded, “Who’s gonna make me pay it?”.  Joani paused and in her toughest Jersey voice said, “I’m a member of a gang!”  The leader loudly asked, “What gang?” Joani paused, and yelled, “The GSA!!”.  The men asked, “What’s the GSA?”  Joani roared, “The Girl Scouts of America!!!”.  At that, the gang started laughing so hard that they about lost their sprinkles.  Their leader not only paid the bill but added a generous tip.

Scripture touches a little on gang mentality; the fact that gangs hang together and share behaviors. “And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:47) “Pagans” isn’t talking about the motorcycle gang (as in “The Pagans”), but it might as well be.  It is the idea of circling the wagons, keeping the outsiders at bay, and squeezing that love and care so tightly that you only extend it to those who are “within the club”, whatever that club would be. 
In contrast, there isn’t a secret handshake, a sharing of common interests, or even a gift exchange for the love mentioned in Matthew 5.  This is the type of love characterized by a flood of generosity toward those who do not deserve it. The only gang any of us belonged to before Christ was the Sinner’s Club – those whose father is the devil and whose ultimate destination definitely is not heaven.  We were not part of God’s family.  Romans 5:10 labels us “enemies” of God. Yet God desperately loved and loves all of us fallen enemies so much that He gave His Son to die for us.  

The same word “enemies” is also used in Matt. 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Pray for the power to love and pray for those who are not members of our family of believers, the club, the warm circle, the nice people.  This is an intentional love and it takes courage.  It’s the same kind of love that my friend Joani extended to those guys who were really scary.  Interesting fact is that after the initial encounter that summer, those guys made a habit of coming out to her truck every time they heard the jingle, and they bought ice cream and made conversation with dear Joani, the woman who ventured into loving the unlovable. 

Is Joani always comfortable in those situations?  No.  Is she ever scared under those circumstances?  Yes.  However, she hears the Holy Spirit saying, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  When you express love under those tough conditions you are behaving just like your Heavenly Father and you are truly demonstrating that you are part of “God’s Gang”. 

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