‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:38-40)
One morning earlier this month, I received a text from the dean of Capital University’s Law School, Rey Valencia, who informed me that security staff had found the body of a deceased man beside a bench near the law school’s outer doors. He was not dressed for the weather, which was about 10 degrees that night. Dean Valencia wrote: “Might you have some time tomorrow for a quick prayer service for this departed individual? I just feel like something has to be done to honor whatever life he may have had, all of which ended in a place that is supposed to be about justice.”
At 2:00 the next afternoon, about two dozen of us gathered around the bench where the man’s body had been found. I began with reflections on several Scriptural passages. Then University President Dave Kaufman spoke, followed by Dean Valencia, then the president of the Student Bar Association, and finally two students representing the Christian Legal Society. I closed with prayers and words of blessing.
Many who spoke made reference to the prophetic command recorded in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah’s charge is posted prominently in the moot court room of the law school, and it has clearly made an imprint on the hearts and minds of our law students.
The text that weighed on my heart that day was another prophetic word: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). We know nothing about the life of the man whom we gathered to honor that day. Given the circumstances of his death, we presume he was unhoused. But one thing is clear: this man, whose life ended on Capital’s downtown campus, had not found his welfare in the welfare of the city of Columbus.
Many years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted an urban ministry initiative called “In the City for Good.” The name held double meaning. In one sense, “for good” is an expression of permanence; in the midst of the phenomenon of urban flight, this church committed itself to be involved “in the city” for the long haul. In another sense, “for good” expresses the goal of having beneficial impact; our ministry in urban contexts should make a positive difference in lives and communities. As a University affiliated with the ELCA, may Capital University, its Law School, and its Seminary, continue to be “in the city for good.”