A reflection on the reeadings for Ephiphany 7:Leviticus 19:1-18, Matthew 5: 38-48, and 1 Corinthians 3:10-23 By The Rev. Karla Jean Miller
I live in a neighborhood where most of the block has lived in their houses for at least 50 or so years. In fact we bought our house from a retired couple who had lived on the block for over 50 years. I think we are the third owners of this 104 year old home! My neighborhood, although it is changing a little, was, back in the day, the landing spot for many first generation Italian-Americans moving out of the North End of Boston. Now, their children live in these single family and two family homes. There is definitely an Italian “flava” in my hood.
The woman who lives across the street, and is as Italian and Bostonian as it gets! She speaks her mind, speaks it loudly, and is unabashedly unapologetic. She gets things done. Let’s call her Loretta. Loretta also is president of a non-profit “ahgahnizashun” that rescues cats and dogs and finds them homes.
Next door to me live aging siblings, Steven and Julietta, who have big personalities themselves, and not always in a positive way. They have a houseful of cats (incidentally, so do I , but that is another story). So, it was natural for Julietta to volunteer for Loretta’s organization. That worked out alright for awhile, but it was inevitable that this would explode. Indeed, it did. Julietta had a falling out with Loretta, whom she felt was not as responsible as she should be. (If the Department of Agriculture has you on their hit list, well, jus’ sayin’.)
So, for the past three years, they haven’t spoken to each other, unless absolutely necessary—but with me living next door, it hasn’t been necessary too often. Usually one will ask me to relay a message to the other. You get the picture. When the snow buried all of us this winter, I took Loretta’s third-hand rusty snow thrower to try and clear a path in front of Julietta and Steven’s home—they aren’t very spry.
Loretta yelled at me from across the street, “Let Stephen do it himself. He can use the snow-thrower— he knows how to work it.” They really, really do not like each other—in spite of being neighbors for years.
Across the street from Julietta and Stephen live a whole host of Italian grandpas. Seriously. I can’t explain it—somehow they are all related, and they all are in their 70s-80s. I am friendly with Rocco. Rocco has a thick Italian accent and brings me celery and tomatoes and zucchini and basil from his garden. Rocco likes me. Rocco, I learned, does not so much like Loretta.
One day, I was walking my doggies on the street where Rocco was standing, smoking and watching traffic. Loretta drove by, slowed down, and rolled down her window so her dog, Nickel, could say hi to my doggies. Nickel jumped out of the window, and all of a sudden it was dog chaos on a busy street. I yelled at Rocco to grab Nickel, but he looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I was so IRRITATED with his unwillingness to, oh, do the right thing and help his neighbor? I finally was able to corral all three dogs safely, but my heart was shaken! I couldn’t trust my neighbor to help? He would let Nickel get hit by a car? What kind of neighbor is this?
The Leviticus text this week talks all about right relationship with neighbors. Love your neighbor as yourself. Mathew reminds us to turn the proverbial “other cheek” (which I think has to do with forgiveness and going beyond, rather than allowing yourself to be abused. I also really like Walter Wink’s take on this passage, but I digress.) Matthew also exhorts the reader to “love their enemies.”
What happens when your neighbor is your enemy, or when your enemy is your neighbor? This is the tension that lives in my neighborhood. It makes me sad. It makes me sad because it isn’t that hard to do the right thing—to be neighborly. Is it really worth it to give bad blood so much energy? I don’t think so. But then, I live in a different reality.
Sometimes I live in the cocoon of my life and ministry, where I am surrounded by people who honestly strive and struggle to do the right thing, people who want to give, want to help, want to love as best and deeply as they can. Realizing that only about 10% of the people of the Commonwealth are participants in communities of faith reminds me that I don’t always live in the real world---like my neighborhood! These people don’t know, or don’t remember that there is real and richer way to live. They don’t hear these words of exhortation; they don’t know they are temples of God’s spirit, and that they are made in the image of God.
Living in my neighborhood reminds me that the light of God’s love shines very dimly in so many pockets of our lives. As a person of faith, as a person of Love, I need to shine that grace wherever I go. As a person of faith, however, I also need to find better ways to help 90% of those find their own lights to shine, so that the neighborhood of the world can truly be a home of hope, of healing, of forgiveness and mercy.