We know we're supposed to Love our neighbor. That principle is one of the anchor ideas in the Bible. Let's assume we agree that it's a good thing to do. But, it's obvious that it is a great struggle for most everyone on the planet to do well. So, how do you love your neighbor? There's two answers to be found, each in the same Bible.
Love your neighbor as yourself, reads the command (Mark 12.31).
To do this, at the most basic level, you need to see your neighbor like you see yourself (we also remind ourselves that we need to have a basic love for ourselves for this to work ... but the principle is powerful no matter what, because everybody - even the self-haters - function in a selfish mode). So, in whatever way you love and care for yourself, even if very basic, you can and should do that for others ... see that they're fed, clothed, cared for. Compassion and gracious love are possible when we 'put ourselves in their shoes'. God identified with us in this way, by condescending to live in our skin, to put himself in our shoes. This is one way of describing the arrival of Jesus Christ. He's the great high priest who lived the very same life that we do.
But, what if we can't at all see ourselves in our neighbor? What if we have one color skin and our neighbor has another? What if our bank account is one size and theirs is another? What if we buy our clothes off this rack and they buy theirs off that rack? What if our home looks like this and their home looks like that? Hear what I'm saying?
There will always be a kind of person who's shoes we wouldn't want to get into! If that's true of us, are we off the hook? Not at all.
"Then [Jesus] will also say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, accursed ones ..., for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me ...'" (Mt. 25.41f)
When the unhappy audience at this talk protested and asked, "When did we fail to do these things?", Jesus said, in essence, 'every time you didn't do it for the person least like you, you failed to do it for me.' How is this so? because Jesus is there in that moment. Jesus is present with the other, especially the suffering, the poor, the weak, the hungry, and the just plain funky. Jesus is present in the very moment we encounter others who are very unlike us -- he's pulling for us, just as he is fighting for them.
So, when we can't identify with our neighbors (near or far), when we can't imagine what it's like in their shoes (because we'd never be caught dead in those shoes) ... when we simply can't see ourselves in our neighbors ... that is when it's really important to see Christ in them.