By Steven Norris

     You can learn a lot in first grade if you just pay attention. My first-grade year was a challenging one. My parents had recently divorced, and we moved from Olive Branch, Mississippi into the big city of Memphis. However, since mom taught school in Olive Branch, we still commuted across the border each day for classes.

     All of that was thrown into jeopardy when a disc ruptured in Mom’s back, and she was forced to undergo surgery. I did not understand at the time, but that meant my commute to school was going to be a significant challenge. There were no school busses crossing state lines to pick up first graders. Not too many parents in our neighborhood were lining up for that kind of a carpool.

     Enter Ms. Rolf. I was excited to learn that Ms. Rolf was going to be my first-grade teacher. She had an infectious smile and taught with enormous energy and passion. I would soon learn that the size of her heart and her compassion outsized all of that.

     I am not certain, but I think that Ms. Rolf also lived in Memphis. What I know is that she showed up to my house each morning to make sure that I got to school. One afternoon, on the way home, she let me come with her to the pet store and I got to pick out the fish that would become our class pet.

     She showed me grace when I struggled to get all my homework done and was ready with an extra snack on days that my lunchbox was not quite as full as it typically was. She made sure that I was taken care of during those challenging weeks that mom recovered from her surgery and loved me through that season like a member of her own family.

     I learned more about being a neighbor from Ms. Rolf than I ever did from the grumpy old couple who lived next door to us. All they ever did was complain when we accidentally hit a ball over the fence or yell and scream if we happened to ride our bikes through their yard. Even though our houses were only feet away, I avoided those folks at all cost.

     Maybe these examples illustrate exactly why Jesus refused to answer the lawyer’s question in Luke 10. The lawyer was looking for a clear definition of who qualified for his care and concern as a “true” neighbor. Jesus, however, tells him a story about a man whose compassion and care outsized any fear or anxiety he had about this stranger lying in the ditch.

     Did they live in the same neighborhood? Speak the same language? Vote for the same candidates? Listen to the same music? Like the same restaurants? Belong to the same civic organizations? None of that seemed to matter as he scooped up that wreck and showed him love.

     May we likewise choose to live in such a way in the year ahead, that we become a “Ms. Rolf” to some other “neighbor” in need of our compassionate care and concern.