1Don't be jealous of crooks
or want to be their friends.
2All they think about
and talk about
is violence and cruelty.
Gangs are part of the landscape in most major urban areas. Why do young people join them? I have read of two significant factors, though there are probably more. One reason is for safety. In an insecure neighbourhood, a gang can provide a type of protection: “If you hurt me, ten other tough guys will take care of you.” If we are afraid, gang solidarity can comfort us.
A second reason is for significance. We want a place to belong, a group that shapes our identity as a person. Each gang develops its own story, the grand explanation why it is what it is, a reason for its existence that a new member can make his or her own.
This proverb warns the potential gang member against being fooled into joining a gang by these (actually) appropriate longings. Gang members may appear on the face of it to be well off. Their crimes may seem to bring them social status. But these appearances are deceptive.
“Violence and cruelty” instead pervade their lives. As Jesus said, “Anyone who lives by fighting will die by fighting.” (Matthew 26:52)
What can we do as we face the existence of gangs? First, we can warn ourselves and, especially, our young people about the realities of gang life. Violence and fear are not safe and provide a most dissatisfying identity. We can also be bold. Stories are told of committed Christians who enter broken urban neighbourhoods and begin to sow stability, healthy options for the future and a sense of identity through participating, with the community of faith, in the story of Christ’s grand redemption of this world. We can support or become part of such courageous ministries. Jesus is our safety and our significance in the midst of a broken world.
Living God, you have brought us of our brokenness through the reconciling work of Christ, and you have given us a secure identity. In gratitude may we venture into our world with that good news to offer your restoration to those who seek stability in insecure places, through Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.