There was once a girl, raised in moderate circumstances, sheltered from much that was sordid and sad in the world. She loved Jesus and prayed earnestly to be able to touch the lives of those less fortunate than she.
After she got married, she found her next door neighbors to be an unusual, unhappy lot. Bitter, they were, and angry. Sometimes she made tentative gestures of friendship- took them some produce from her garden, perhaps a loaf of bread, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs. When the old man died, she carried up her pumpkin pie and prayed for peace and comfort for the old lady.
One day she glanced out her window, noticed men in white moon suits swarming all over her neighbor’s property, carrying the bits and pieces of a confiscated meth lab to their van. There was an arrest, a grandson, who had been operating illegally right under his grandmother’s nose. She thought of that poor boy, huddled miserably, grieving in the garage the day his grandfather died.
For a long time, there was nobody home at the house across the street. Then one day the next generation moved in. He packed a not-so-concealed weapon and wanted to help the pregnant Christian lady carry her groceries from the car into her house. “No thanks,” she said, “I can manage.” She was a little afraid of him. The other neighbors had distinct memories of teenage years. “Lock your doors,” they said. “He steals.”
The Christian lady who loved Jesus didn’t know how to love these new neighbors. Occasionally he had a job, but mostly he seemed to stay home and accrue guns. His wife worked at the factory, yelled at her sad little children, and went from church to church, bringing home cases of free stuff to add to her storage barn collection of other free stuff from churches. Starved for friends, she would stop in at the Christian lady’s home, her eyes never still, casing the place, just like the neighbors said. She kept offering to babysit the Christian lady’s kids. “In your dreams,” she thought, but she said, “Thanks, I will keep it in mind!”
The Christian lady’s husband cleared the snow out of their driveway and helped them fix the ruts in their lane and tilled their garden plot when they wanted to plant tomatoes. Occasionally there were exchanges of tools, and nothing ever went missing. Eight years went by, with a sort of hesitant friendship, no more, no less. Holiday baking exchanged, and hi-bye waves on the road did not seem like real neighborliness because there was always this inner distrust in the heart of the Christian lady.
One day the neighbors’ penchant for free stuff involved someone else’s credit card information, and that was the end of living in the country for a while. The state took their children while they cooled their heels. Their house burned a few months later and they had nowhere to go when they got out and sifted through the ashes. The Christian lady gave them a homemade comfort from her church and asked how she could help. Shell shocked, they said they didn’t know. Then they disappeared. The other neighbors thought, “Good riddance.”
The Christian lady was left wondering, “How does one love ‘the least of these’? The people that our society despises?” Because there they were, all those years, and now they are gone. She was left wondering, did they see Jesus living across the road?