By Tracey Jessup
“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
The eyes of our nation have been following the trial of the former Dallas police officer who shot and killed her unarmed neighbor in his home last year. The jury sentenced Amber Guyger to ten years in prison in the death of Botham Jean.
While the sentence was met with mixed reactions, Jean’s younger brother, Brandt, said these words in a victim’s impact statement:
“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive and I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you. And I don’t think anyone can say it, again I’m speaking for myself… but I love you just like anyone else…And I wasn’t going to ever say this in front of my family or anyone, but I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. And the best would be to give your life to Christ. I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you. I don’t know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug, please? Please?”
Judge Tammy Kemp granted permission, and Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger hugged for almost a full minute. Shortly after they embraced, Judge Kemp came off the bench to speak to Botham Jean’s family, sharing hugs and quiet words on the side of the courtroom. The judge then approached Guyger and gave her the gift of a Bible.
On Monday, September 30, Gardner-Webb University hosted former professional athlete Chris Singleton, whose mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was murdered in a racially motivated shooting along with eight other victims at Mother Emanuel AME church in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. Singleton inspired his city and the nation by forgiving the man who murdered his mother and stating, “Love is stronger than hate.” As he shared with our community of faith and learning about his personal experiences of adversity, he testified to the truth that God can guide us through any storm we will ever pass.
The context of today’s passage finds the people of God uprooted from the familiarity of home and exiled in a land whose language and customs they do not know. Jeremiah speaks words of wisdom and hope to the brokenhearted, devastated community, but his words were not what they might have expected. They are not told to seek revenge on their captors; instead, they are told to seek their welfare, which inextricably was tied to the welfare of the people of God.
When someone has wronged us, do we wish them evil and harm? Or do we follow the wisdom of Jeremiah, and the example of Brandt Jean and Chris Singleton, praying to the Lord for the welfare of our enemies?
Prayer: Lord, thank you for redeeming our lives in such a way that places of hurt are transformed into places of mission and blessing as we seek the welfare of those who have done us harm.
Dr. Tracey Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.