"But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" (Luke 10:29 NIV)
We were in line at the ice cream store when I noticed him. His face bore the marks of too many bar-fights, nose asunder and more than one knife-scar. His hair was nicotine-stained and his clothes were rumpled, but clean. Something in his demeanor made me think he was drunk. With my paternal instincts at red-alert, I stepped between him and my children and turned my back to him, putting up a wall of silence even as I used my body as a screen for my son and daughter.
He tried to speak once, but I didn't hear him clearly and so just nodded to acknowledge him. I sent the kids to a table across the room where I could keep an eye on them while I waited for our turn in line, and where they wouldn't be near the man behind us.
"It's hard, isn't it," he said. I glanced his way and nodded, mumbling something like "they grow up too fast", but scarcely making eye contact. He persisted, gently: "I mean it's hard raising them by yourself, isn't it." Something in his tone made me turn to look at him. Only then did I notice his children, as I listened to him tell me how long his wife had been gone. His words contrasted with his hard exterior.
I was duly chastened. Once again I failed to see "my neighbor", as Jesus calls those people He places in our paths, in the way that Jesus might have seen him. This despite the fact that Jesus never fails to see me with love even through the scars of sin, even through the rumpled nature of my stutter-step faithfulness.
Today, Jesus walks with us into Starbucks, sits beside us on the commuter rail, listens in during our meetings at work. He's as interested in us in these places as He is when we're pew-bound singing praises. But He's also intrigued, compassionate, maybe even wistful, about the people around us at Starbucks, on the train, or in the office. Many have never met Him, and few of us are moving slow enough to think to introduce Him to them. While there's sadness in the eternal realm of these encounters, there must surely be a palpable disappointment He feels when we're so busy we fail to see the people in our paths the way He sees them, as sheep in need of a shepherd.
May the pace of our lives never disrupt our ability to see our clients, our coworkers and even our casual contacts with the same eyes that Jesus sees them. And may we always be open to moments when we can introduce them to Him.