I was the youngest of four siblings who together attended a country school. We lived on a farm, and if we forgot to take something in the morning, parents weren't called to ask them to bring it to school.
So while that tended to make us more careful in gathering our belongings before going to the bus, nonetheless the day came that I forgot to take my lunch. Without hesitation, I went to the brother and sister closest to my classroom and told them my dilemma. One gave me a sandwich, the other their piece of fruit and that was just the end of it.
It seemed an ordinary thing to ask my brother to share his lunch with me, and an ordinary thing for him to do so without complaint. I imagine he wouldn't have felt good about eating his entire lunch knowing that I had nothing - so really, what choice did he have?
That's what happens in a family, we learn to look out for each other. Even if there are rivalries and squabbles at home, we are there for each other on the playground. We learn as children that to be family means to forgive, to make sure that the others are okay, to be there in times of trouble. It is there that we begin that fundamental life task of learning how to love and be loved.
By adulthood, most of us are pretty good about looking out for family. We have "our people" and it tends to expand over time to include friends and their children, the in-laws, the extended family, the special people who come along and find a place in our hearts. They are the easy ones to love.
Jesus' words in the Gospel from Matthew challenge us to extend our generosity and love far beyond that circle of "family" to care for even those who dislike us, who we have nothing in common with, even to those who have wronged us. We are to take those lessons learned in childhood, the lessons of what it means to be a good brother and sister, and see the humanity we share, the face of Christ, in all those we meet.
So fast forward 45 years or so from the day I didn't go hungry at school, and you would find me in the downtown mall, taking a well-deserved lunch break from my day of shopping. And there was a man, who looked bad and smelled worse, moving amongst the food court, snatching up the leftovers from the tables.
While his presence made me uneasy because of his plight, I was more concerned for my own discomfort. I forgot that we belong to the same family, and that my food belonged to him too. I did not offer from what I had, I kept it for myself.
Human wisdom would say I did right to avoid contact, but "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." I will, no doubt, have other opportunities to try to get it right, to remember who we are and do it differently.
(Kathleen Giffin — firstname.lastname@example.org)