From The Rev. Nick Lorenzetti, St. Paul’s, Modesto
Who is my neighbor? Who am I?
In praying about sharing thoughts herein about “who is my neighbor?” it came to me that to answer that inquiry, one must first ask “Who am I?” In his book “What Jesus Demands from the World,” John Piper suggests that we stop asking the “Who is my neighbor” question, and go instead to what he considers to be the decisive issue of love: “What kind of person am I?” It seems to me that this was Jesus’ approach in the story of the Samaritan, who came seeking confirmation of his goodness and loyalty, only to have Jesus refocus his thinking. He wanted assurance that he was on the right path. Jesus suggests that he must take a look at where he is in comparison to those in the world around him. He does not address who they are, but who he is and is willing to be in relation to them. Personally I find this approach to be far more challenging than just looking out into the masses and recognizing that I am called to love everyone. I believe I am called to accept daily and renew in my heart perennially the radical truth that in Jesus.
I am given right standing before God, and that I am given the gift of the Holy Spirit to be propelled in love for God and others by that Spirit’s grace and power. That is what is to affect the way we see those around us, those whom we encounter and those whom we might prefer not to encounter. It is not because of who or what they are, but because of what we are in Jesus. Paul reminds us that God’s justifying work for us and transforming work in us commissions a path of good works that calls us to walk with and be for others. On this journey, on this path, are real people, rich in diversity, full of varied needs, folks with real lives full of real stories. Whenever we encounter them, they are a divine call to us. They are truly an opportunity – a welcomed mandate – for us to be who we are in Christ.
In truth, what enters into this picture is our propensity to make a thousand qualifiers. Ignatius of Loyola presented his followers with “The Daily Examen,” part of which is to come to the end of each day asking what, among my words, actions and inactions that day, could have been better handled. Within that practice, it is advisable to have some concern that we get lost in these qualifiers all too often – about when help can hurt and who are the poor and what’s not the Great Commission. These are all important questions, and we do well to give them careful thought. Here in the Diocese of San Joaquin we have grown to know, understand and accept the implications of the Great Commission. We are contemplating what it means to learn, pray, turn, worship, bless, to go and to rest. But as we do so, while we think, and think we must, may we never lose sight that the central issue has to do with how the gospel bears on our own beings, to the very root of who we are. As we continue to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, we recognize that in Him have we become a new creation. Our call is to ask: “Who am I toward others?”
Last Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, I invited my sisters and brothers at St. Paul’s to contemplate these verses from the first reading (Acts 11: 1-18). The reading implies the great challenge offered to Simon Peter to accept the Gentiles, those not like him. I share with you the words that seem to cry out for our attention: “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” (verse 12). And: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (verse 17). Lots to think about! Blessings, greetings and love from all of us at St. Paul’s, Modesto, to all of you.