“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is fulfilling the law.” (Romans 13:10)
I am troubled that this most simple command is so blatantly ignored in society today. Many people fail to take the time to even think about their neighbors; to truly care about the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and the marginalized.
While waiting for a friend at the doctor’s office the other day, I had an interesting yet disturbing encounter when I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman waiting for his wife.
We began with just the usual small talk about the weather, etc. The television in the waiting room was on MSNBC. The commentator was doing a story on the federal budget and how the President’s proposal would affect the less fortunate. The man stated, “Its about time that we have President that is going to crack down on those people on food stamps. All they do is sit around all day watching TV and eating potato chips.” I asked him if he had ever met anyone on food stamps, to which he replied “No”.
I paused for a moment, reached out my hand to him and said, “My name is Andrew, I am on food stamps and most of the people I know who are also on them wish that they did not have to be.” He said that “those people” should get a job and work for a living. I explained to him that yes, there are some who abuse the system, but that most ARE working but cannot make ends meet. This fact seemingly went over his head. He continued to rail on “those lazy freeloaders”.
I was at a loss for what to say next. Being extremely irritated by his tirade, I did not identify myself as a priest though now I wish that I had. Fortunately, my friend was done and we left.
The man followed us, and rode down on the elevator with us talking with my friend about our conversation, saying how wrong and ill-informed that I was. I ignored him, as I was very close to the boiling point. I felt that silence was the best choice at the time, though in my head I had many thoughts for responses. Most not nice….
When I got home, I sat down to mull over the encounter. I got over my anger and prayed for the man, that he might gain the gift of compassion for others- that he might become less ignorant of the plight of those less fortunate. I also prayed for those who struggle with disabilities, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, and other problems making ends meet.
I began to really think about the man’s words. He is not the only one in this world that thinks like that. It saddens me think that so many people are so ignorant of how the various social programs work. I hope that it just ignorance and not mean-spiritedness. I felt that the man was judging me and others who rely on these programs.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged…” (Luke 6: 37a)
I know that I was also judging him. He is probably a very nice, caring person. I forgive him his ignorance and hope that I was able to enlighten him. I ask forgiveness for my judgement of him.
I hope and pray that one day social inequality will come to an end. One day all humanity will dedicatedly follow Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. I pray that compassion and kindness will permeate the hearts and souls of all people in this world.
Oh, by the way, later that evening, I had to laugh. I was watching TV and having a snack… Potato Chips!!! He was right…! Ha Ha!!!
Rev. Fr. Andrew Smith grew up in Appleton. WI. He studied Theology, Philosophy and Sociology at Lakeland University in Sheboygan, WI and completed his theological studies at Holy Redeemer Seminary of the UICC. Fr. Andrew was ordained to the diaconate in December of 2010 and to the Order of Presbyters in May of 2011. He entered his novitiate in the Order of Preachers Old Catholic in August of 2016 and took his three- year vows in May 2017. Fr. Andrew is pastor of St Dominic Old Catholic Church in Oshkosh, WI. He enjoys cooking, reading, writing and is an avid history buff.