Somewhere I read about two neighbors.
Both grew up in a community of opportunity.
One neighbor lived a cautious, responsible life. He worked hard, saved his money and made his family proud--a real dependable guy.
The other, younger man lived in a more carefree manner. It wasn't that he resisted work, he just had a different vision for his life--a real restless guy.
At one point, the younger man left the neighborhood of his family. He cashed in his inheritance card with his father and set off to make his way in life.
Things didn't turn out so well for him.
He didn't use his resources wisely. He romped and played hard for a while, but he allowed his initial freedom to sour his heart.
He fell into poverty.
He knew, firsthand, desperation, hunger, homelessness, hopelessness, exploitation and oppression.
He violated all of the principles of his upbringing--he really left home.
When at the very end of his rope, he "came to himself."
He recalled his community, his neighbors, his family. He went back home with a speech all ready to deliver. "Please give me a job doing whatever is needed."
He threw himself on the mercy of his lost, but beloved community.
And, his community responded!
They welcomed him home, threw him a party and supported his quest for reestablishing himself in a respectable life. The community lived out of its strength to lean into the weakness and need of a fellow community member.
However, not everyone was pleased.
The man's older neighbor threw a fit, organized a public policy response and opposed the younger man's attempts to get reestablished. He urged the community not to assist the lazy, no good man who left and was now back expecting the community to help him out of a crisis for which he was responsible.
Finally, the white-haired mayor of the community confronted the older neighbor, "You don't seem to remember what sort of community we have here, a community we've worked hard to establish on principles of honesty, fairness, compassion and hope," the old mayor explained. "We've all been in tough scrapes at one time or another. We've depended on each other for support, second chances and the hope that comes from loyalty, understanding and high expectations. Just remember, your opposition to your neighbor is revealing the true nature of your heart."
The lost neighbor, relieved to be at home again among supportive friends, thanked one and all for his new lease on life. The last I heard he was working hard and making progress thanks to his new shot at a good life.
[This parable provides a contemporary--some might say liberationist--re-framing of Jesus' parable of the lost son found in Luke 15. This interpretation assumes the worst about a victim of poverty in terms of cause. Such a view is necessary to adequately display the radical, counter intuitive response of the poor man's beloved community.]