In the Book of Genesis Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It did not go well for Cain. God punished him.
Some four thousand years later a lawyer thought he asked Jesus a “gotcha question” “Who is my neighbor”.
It did not go well for him either. First, Jesus simply told a story about a Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 ff.)
Keep in mind that for the lawyer there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan. Samaritans were not only distrusted because they were different. They were hated because they had different values and beliefs than those of a “good Jew”.
After the story, Jesus asked him to answer the question himself… and, to go and act on his answer.
It is relatively safe to recall these texts from our spiritual history. It becomes very dangerous to see these texts as questions alive today. The question “who is my neighbor” is the same. Just the clothes are different.
Who is my neighbor today
Do I consider my neighbor someone who
- has a different color skin,
- was born in another country,
- must speak the same language I do,
- likes the same foods as I do?
Is my neighbor someone who I don’t
- want to vote in elections because they vote differently,
- want to live in my neighborhood or lead in my church,
- think is as good as I am?
Is my neighbor someone who must think and behave in a certain way before I will recognize him or her as my neighbor?
Is my neighbor someone who has to be perfect even though I am not perfect?
Today Jesus still asks – “Do you understand?”
At the last supper Jesus pointedly asked, “Do you understand what I have done?” I have washed your feet. If you understand you will wash one another’s feet.
For much of my adult life my focus on the last supper was on appreciating that Jesus is present in our celebration. In recent years I have begun to focus on John’s version (chapter 13) and the question “do you understand”.
I have discovered a progression in my approach. As I received communion, I tried to become conscious of being present in the room when Jesus took bread, blest it and broke it. It is hard to explain the very real difference it makes when, in my mind, I picture myself in that room.
In recent years I focused on what Jesus’ question “do you understand” means today. With Jesus, I frequently began to examine my life in terms of whose feet I had washed recently, especially keeping in mind all who I am not inclined to think of as my neighbors.
Now in addition to thanking Jesus for his presence and thinking about the times I did not wash people’s feet, I frequently look forward and I find myself thinking about the coming day. Which of my “neighbors” is in need and whose feet I am being called to wash today? Now I ask Jesus to open my eyes to the opportunities to wash the feet of those most in need during the course of the day.
My understanding of Jesus’ question may just be changing my relationships with my neighbors.
Understanding Jesus’ question
Do I ever think of ways I am called to wash my neighbor’s feet today?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk