I stepped out the front door of the church the other day and looked up to see a woman clothed in a black burqa walking by. She was holding the hands of two little girls. The children wore head scarves and were sporting bright purple and pink flowered back packs. No doubt they had taken a Monday morning walk to the public library next door and now laden with books, were heading towards home.
Now in case you don’t know, I don’t serve in New York City or Chicago. DeKalb, Illinois is a University town so we have more than our share of diversity, but this was a first for me. I picked up my step to try to catch up with these neighbors but they were moving quickly. I called out a good morning, but the mother only turned to glance at me and then kept moving. I’m not certain I accurately read her expression, but it seemed to hold some measure of alarm. I imagine she couldn’t figure out why this crazy American woman was chasing her down the street. If it had been me I probably would have run in the other direction, too.
This near encounter with a stranger got me to thinking. It is so that the foot traffic outside my office window is constant and while from time to time I do pause to watch those walking by, usually my eyes are glued to the computer screen, my attention is on the one on the other end of the phone line, my energy is given to those who have found their way into my spacious office. When I venture out, normally I am going to see members and friends of the congregation I serve. My encounters with neighbors unknown to me are polite and perfunctory. The other day, a woman whose whole being was hidden from view caused me to wonder at what else is hiding in the lives and hearts of those whose path crosses mine day after day. But who I’m afraid I’ve hardly paused long enough to see.
There is a great deal for us in the story of the Good Samaritan before us now. It is a story which is familiar in its meaning even to those who have never actually heard it read from Luke’s Gospel. And yet, I think the start of the story is in the eyes the Samaritan had for one he had never before met. In his ability to see beyond the long-standing divide between himself and the wounded man he came across on the road to Jericho. To be sure, it results in his willingness to risk and to reach out with kindness and generosity in a way that is surprising still yet today. The young lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is and instead of answering, Jesus offers an image of what it is to be a neighbor. And for everything else the neighbor does in this story, first he sees.
I don’t know how it is that I can have sat at the same desk for a year and a half and had my eyes so closed. It took a woman in a black burqa and two little girls to get me wondering. Now that my eyes have been opened, now that I’m starting to see I’m trying to figure out how to take the next step and get to know the neighbors who walk by every day. I expect some of them will have great need, not unlike the victim of robbers in this familiar story now. I’m fairly certain many of them have been passed by over and over again by those of us who should know better — including me. For while it’s no road to Jericho outside my office window, if they’re walking by it’s fairly certain the neighborhood they call home has its fair share of challenges. More than anything, I know for certain they are all God’s Own and for that reason as much as any I am called to open my eyes and see them. As the Samaritan did in the story Jesus told. As Jesus did and does for all of us. I don’t know what happens next, but I’m also confident this ‘seeing’ will probably lead to discoveries I haven’t yet imagined.
- I expect most of us can retell the “Story of the Good Samaritan” without even looking at the text. How does one make such a familiar story ‘new’ again?
- Have you ever had an ‘eye-opening’ experience like mine when you were forced to see who was in front of you all the time? What was that like?
- Who is your neighbor? Does it strike you that perhaps there is someone you haven’t taken the time to really ‘see’ yet?
- After the ‘seeing,’ then what?