Monday, August 12, 2013

Pushing the Margins

By Joanna Foote 

In Luke 10, the expert in the law asked Jesus: "Who is my neighbor?" When I read Jesus' response, I imagine that his underlying answer could have been "how far can I push the margin?" How shockingly unexpected can our neighbor be!

When I was in middle school, all the youth group programming and Christian summer camp teaching told me to sit with the kid who was alone in the cafeteria. In high school I sat with the refugee women in ESL classes in the US. Later it was undocumented immigrants in the US. Then it was the migrants who had been deported back to Mexico. Now it is the Central Americans who suffer abuses such as kidnapping as they travel through Mexico. In each situation I have wondered, "Why don't more people know what is happening here?" "Why are there so few who seem to care about these people I meet?"

But how far away is the margin anyway? When I was in a shelter serving Central American migrants in southern Mexico, I was doing intake interviews of migrants. One day, I looked down at a woman's ID card and when I saw the birth date I read it over and over again to make sure that I hadn't made a mistake: February 20, 1991. My birthday. And hers. Our life experiences were radically different and I was humbled to think of the privileges I had because my birth certificate listed a different country than hers. Yet, there we were, birthday twins.

Perhaps the margins aren't so far away after all. Indeed, perhaps that was Jesus' point in the first place. When he pushed the expert in the law out to the margins with his response, he didn't do so to illustrate how far away those margins were. He did so to illustrate just how close our neighbors are, just how near our brothers and sisters reside.

I am reminded of that fact when I go out to lunch with my friend who is a day laborer from Guatemala and we talk about CS Lewis' writing and God and philosophy and community. Or when I worship in the primarily Latino Catholic Church that I attended this summer in DC. Or when I travel to Mexico and feel welcome in many different homes. The challenge, then, comes from two questions. First, to which margins is God calling us? Second, can we expand our definition of who is close, similar, and family to us - that is, who are our neighbors?

Joanna Foote is headed to Mexico for a research Fulbright focusing on the reintegration of migrants. She is a recent graduate of Georgetown University and just completed an internship focusing on migration issues. Follow her blog at


  1. Joanna, This is a great thought to ponder now at the beginning of a school year, which seems more like New Years than January 1st. How would the Lord stretch my margins this year? Thanks!

  2. Thank you for this important post. The anemic definitions we settle for (e.g., "neighbor") aren't found in the Dictionary according to Jesus. We need more voices to challenge us to consult him when we think we've "got it right." Please keep talking!