Who is my neighbor?

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

 

And who is my neighbor?

The one who I am most likely to neglect, negate, nullify,

Objectify into something, not a person, not even fully human

Not like me, not connected with me, to whom I have no responsibility.

 

The stranger, the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, imprisoned, vulnerable reminders

Of my own weakness, contingency, propensity to death.

The one’s I want dead because their lives make my life difficult.

 

Those outside the norm, outside my comfort zone, the bothersome ones,

I wish they would go away

 

Be concrete, the alien, the widow, the orphan,

The immigrant and refugee, women, and children,

The death row inmate

The old

The unborn

The poor

LGBTQ

Black and brown and red and yellow peoples—hey, anyone who’s not white,

Everyone I’d like to segregate, not see, not be free.

The one’s I won’t list here because I don’t see.

 

Go beyond the humans I deny to

The creation I threaten

By taking too much, consuming too much,

In my drive to dominate, exploit, control

Destroying land, water, air, species.

 

Who is my neighbor?

Those not in my neighborhood.

Those I don’t want in my neighborhood.

Those I would never consider to be my neighbor.

“Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

A guest asked me if he could lead the opening prayer at Manna House, and I said, “yes.” The backyard at Manna House is now open. To start the morning, we form our circle for prayer in the driveway entrance to the backyard.

He began by giving thanks to God for every good gift in our lives. Then he quoted from Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105), and he praised God for guiding us in life. Petitions followed. He asked for health—in the name of Jesus. He asked for deliverance from suffering—in the name of Jesus. He asked for a place to live—in the name of Jesus. Then he closed by thanking God again for every good thing in our lives—in the name of Jesus.  Simple. Direct. Needed. Prayer.

I especially needed to hear that God’s word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I need God to light my way in a world so marked by darkness. It has only been a few weeks since Easter, and I still need reminding about resurrection. God’s creation certainly carries the reminder. Trees have filled out with leaves. Yards display fresh green grass. Peonies, roses, tulips, gardenias, and irises, all display their colors. Redbuds, magnolias, and dogwoods, all join the blossoming celebration of new life.

But this beautiful assertion of the power of life has not been enough for me. Like many others, I have been struck by the senseless death in yet another school shooting. And the news tells of the threatening future we face due to our ongoing pollution of the world. On a smaller scale, I have mourned the loss so suddenly and at such a young age of Rachel Held Evans. Her spirited writings gave such hope and promise. Closer to home, Charlie, who has for many years been an anchor at Caritas Village, offering political analysis, theological wisdom, and a particular view of the world, died unexpectedly. Closer still, I am addressing my own health challenges that are not so subtle reminders of aging and mortality. Death is in the air even as new life springs all around.

So, as much as I appreciate and relish the blossoming of life in God’s creation as a witness to resurrection, I have also found a witness to resurrection as I have spent some time meditating upon this image of God’s word as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

I have thought about the physical necessity of having a lamp, of having light by which to see while walking in darkness. The guest who shared this Bible verse has probably experienced how acute the need is for light for persons whose homelessness means they will be out walking in the night. I know that in the night I am more likely to stumble. In the dark I am more likely to fall. I have seen guests arrive in the morning with bruises that resulted from a trip in the night. The darkness of night carries danger. A lamp is needed to see where I am going. A light is needed to show the way.

These physical realities ground the spiritual necessity of having God’s word as a lamp and as a light to guide me in the emotional and spiritual darkness that surrounds me. I need this lamp and light to help me resist falling into despair at the reality of death. That despair gives up on love and laughter and on liberation from sin and death.

I need the light in God’s word, that became incarnate in Jesus who resisted death’s power in his life and teaching, and who overturned the power of sin and death in his resurrection. Jesus is God’s lamp that offers light in this dark world. With this lamp, I can walk in my life guided by this resurrection truth, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).