On March 31st, I believe Jesus cried. That evening, on the streets of Los Angeles, rapper Nipsey Hussle was murdered in cold blood.
Growing up in the tough Crenshaw neighborhood of South L.A., Hussle was well acquainted with the stranglehold gang violence had on his city. Born Ermias Asghedom, Hussle grew to prominence in the early 2010s with the release of series of popular mixtapes. Hussle didn’t create wholesome songs. He wasn’t sanitized and safe for your children. Hussle’s art imitated the hard life he lived. He was a member of the infamous west coast gang, the Crips. He had face tattoos. He wore out 4-letter words. But he was also so much more than that.
As Hussle’s career took off, so too did his generosity. He heavily re-invested the wealth he was accumulating back into the communities he’d lived in and seen torn apart. He worked to broker peace between L.A.’s major gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. He started a STEM Program for underserved children. He sought to help families break the cycle of poverty by bringing business to south L.A. with entrepreneurial ventures that employed community members. And on the last day of March, he was gunned down on the sidewalk outside his store.
I hear your questions. I feel your skeptical glances. Wasn’t he a gang member? Didn’t he know that those things would catch up with him? It’s great he helped his community, but didn’t his music glorify the opposite? Are you really trying to make me feel something for this guy? Because I don’t, and I’m not sure Jesus would either.
Before you dismiss the death of Hussle, let’s talk about Jesus and his dead friend.
Jesus was out of town when he got word that one of his friends was very sick. For reasons unknown to us, Jesus chose to delay his arrival. When he finally did arrive, his buddy was already dead. This dead man, named Lazarus, had two sisters who also counted Jesus as a close friend. When Jesus finally showed up, too-little and too-late, one of those sisters had some cutting words for him. “If you had been here my brother would not be dead.” What Jesus did next was unexpected. He didn’t return her anger. He didn’t offer excuses for his late arrival. He didn’t even comfort her. Instead, he just started crying. The scripture simply says, “Jesus wept.” It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, only two words, but I believe it to be one of the most important. Jesus didn’t dismiss the pain of the family or make a case for why it wasn’t his fault. He shared in their despair. He cried with his friends. Their pain was his pain.
Within minutes of being shot, the hashtag #PrayForNipsey became the number one trending topic in the world. From the moment he was pronounced dead, his community has wretched with pain. Hundreds gathered at his storefront the following day. And all over the nation, in any city, you can hear Hussle coming from passing cars. People are continuing to reel from this loss. They are hurting and will continue to hurt for weeks and months.
With every news headline of tragedy, you have a choice to make—you can dismiss the pain or you can choose to feel it. It’s no different with Nipsey Hussle. You can call him a gangbanger who got what he deserved. Or you can choose to feel the pain of a community that lost a beloved son, father, artistic pioneer, entrepreneurial spirit and beacon of hope. Simply put, we can wash our hands or we can weep.
I don’t know much about Lazarus. I don’t know the story of his past or even how he met Jesus. But I do know that Jesus counted him a friend. And that Jesus counted many unsavory types among his friends as well. Part of me likes to think that if Jesus was walking around right now, he may have counted Nipsey Hussle as a friend. But what I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that Jesus would have counted Hussle worthy of tears—not because of his success or failures, but simply because he was a human, created in the image of God. Jesus would choose to feel the pain of a hurting community. And he would have been there to offer hope. If we claim to fashion our lives after Jesus’, we should learn to do the same.