Judah mourns and her gates languish; her people lament on the ground, and the cry of Jerusalem goes up. Her nobles send their servants for water; they come to the cisterns; they find no water; they return with empty vessels. (Jeremiah 14:2-3)
On Tuesday I drove up East St. about 45 minutes after the terrible auto accident at Pittsfield High School, having no idea what had just transpired. I have never seen so many blue lights in all my life. The traffic was blocked in one direction and was moving at just a crawl in the other. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it looked like a bomb had gone off with wreckage strewn all over. It was hard to tell if there was more than one car. What had happened? How did a car end up against the front of the building? Which way were they traveling? How many casualties were there? It was impossible that anyone could survive given the scene. I’m afraid the image will remain imprinted in my memory from now on out.
It was on news later that evening, and on the front page of the paper the next morning. Only one car, and, yes, both were killed. Apparently two men in their 30’s had raced down Second St. at between 80 and 100 mph. The fact that they ran two red lights at that speed and cleared both directions of traffic without hitting any other vehicle, never mind any students that might be congregated on the sidewalk after school, is nothing short of a miracle. The bigger question that is yet to be answered as far as we know is, “What were they thinking?” Was this intentional? Were drugs involved? We may or may never find out the answer to these questions.
Underlying these questions of course is, what of any innocent or unsuspecting commuters or pedestrians? Was there no concern for anyone else’s welfare if not their own? I’m sure I’m not the only one who asks this question. Even if suicide or drugs was involved, is there not still a modicum of concern for the value of anyone else’s life? This is becoming a more relevant question, given the rash of indiscriminate shootings in our schools, malls and movie theaters these days. It is frightening, but I’m afraid it tells us something about the condition of our society.
I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I believe there are some parallels between our culture today and that of the ancient Israelites in the days of Jeremiah. This was a down time in ancient Israel. It had been several centuries since King David and his son, Solomon. Leading up to Jeremiah’s period, the nation of Israel had lost their spiritual moorings. The worship of Yahweh had become largely irrelevant, but the decline was not limited to just the spiritual sphere. It impacted every aspect of society- moral, economic and social. Life became cheap. As hard to hear as it may seem, there were even times during periods of famine when women ate their own newborn children to satisfy their own hunger. And yet, despite the proclamations of the prophets, who were often ridiculed, the people could not see the connection.
Today, people are aghast at the events on the evening news. Yet in a week or two after each tragedy, we move on as if nothing had ever happened, completely oblivious to the underlying causes. This perhaps is the most frightening thing of all. Or, perhaps we look for answers to these things in places where answers are not to be found or provide only anemic answers at best. This is what Jeremiah refers to as “cisterns” without water.
But, you know, this is where we as the church come in. We need to be careful not to draw too direct a parallel between ancient Israel and Pittsfield or America. The parallel is really between ancient Israel and the church. And yet, we as the church live within our communities and our culture. And we as the church have been given a prophetic voice.
Jesus told the woman at the well that if she knew who she was speaking with she would have asked him and he would have given her “living water”. We have that living water. We have answers to the questions and the crises, and that answer is Jesus Christ. This gives new imperative to our calling as Grace Church in Pittsfield. We need to pray for the families who have been directly impacted by this tragedy and we need to pray for our community. And we need to pray that God would give us opportunity to be his voice in our community.