I came across a story this week that made me stop and think.
The story caught my attention because the headline stated: “A woman chases down a wallet thief – and then buys him coffee.” I was intrigued by the headline and its potential to speak into my life. Here’s the gist of the story.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman in Edmonton, Alberta witnessed a mugger grab a woman’s wallet and run. Without giving much thought to her well-being, Tess Aboughoushe took chase.
“I saw the man and the woman on the side of the road and as I was walking past, she calls out that her wallet has been stolen. ‘Stop! Thief!’ Legitimately, just like a movie scene. He was running in front of me and I didn’t really stop to consider personal safety issues.”
She chased him down a couple of blocks, losing him at one point, before finding him behind a dumpster in an alley. Knowing that she had seen him, he started walking toward her apologizing, offering back the wallet. As he handed the wallet to her, he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m so sorry.”
In a few moments, the victim arrived, relieved and grateful to this unknown stranger who helped her. The victim invited Ms. Aboughoushe to walk back to the main street with her, but she declined, choosing instead to remain with this seemingly desperate man.
If she hadn’t done enough that was unexpected, she then took the situation to an entirely new level. She offered to buy the man a cup of coffee. He graciously accepted. During their 15-minute chat at the café, he explained his desperation.
He had come up to town the day before… and a friend abandoned him. This “friend” took all of his stuff. He was able to get a coat from the homeless shelter; now he was trying to get $30 to get a bus back home.
Ms. Aboughoushe concluded, “I don’t know if [his story] was real or not. It really didn’t matter at that point… It made the most sense and had the best positive outcome for everyone if I took him to a place where he could relax and have a coffee.”
This story made me ask myself what I would do in a similar situation. Would I risk my well-being to help a stranger? Would the thought even cross my mind to spend my money and my time like this? Would I be more inclined to hang out with a thief than with a respectable victim?
I have to be honest: I don’t know what I would do. But I’m pretty sure that I know what Jesus would do.
I’m not saying that we should take lightly the potential danger in a situation like this. God gave us minds to make wise decisions. But I would dare to say that we are much more likely to err on the side of doing too little than doing too much. I would dare to say that we would be more apt to think about the victim than the perpetrator.
I understand our hesitancy. But I also understand that Jesus tells at least one parable about a man who risks his safety and invests his money and time to help an injured traveler. Of course, the surprising dynamic of the Parable of the Good Samaritan is that the people who make great claims about their worship of God are the ones who protect themselves, refusing to get involved while the man who is considered a heretic takes the risk. And even more appalling is that Jesus says that the heretic is obedient to God not the others. The heretic is the one who does what God desires in order to inherit eternal life. The heretic is the one who loves the Lord God with all his heart, all his soul, all his strength, and all his mind. And loves his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27).
I suspect that as you read this, you are putting up all kinds of red flags. It’s not doing good deeds that make us right with God; it’s faith. That’s what we are taught, but that’s not what Jesus says, at least not in this story. Well, this is a special circumstance for one man at one time. That might be true, but Jesus connects the story to what he says are the greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor.
I wonder if our red flags aren’t the result of being taught (or at least interpreting what we have been taught) that being a Christian is simply believing in Jesus. By this we mean that we have given mental assent to Jesus as the Savior of our sins or that we have prayed a prayer of confession and received forgiveness for our sins. Has Jesus forgiven us? Most assuredly. Is it important that we confess our sins and open our hearts to his forgiving grace? Most definitely. Do we need to place our faith in Jesus? Yes. But if our idea of salvation is only this, then we are missing the heart of what Jesus means by salvation.
Recently, I have been listening to sermons of one of my favorite preachers, Dennis Kinlaw. He was an Old Testament scholar and devoted disciple of Jesus. In one of his sermons, he makes this statement: Jesus didn’t say, “Believe in me.” What he did say was, “Follow me.” The call of Jesus is not mental assent but life direction—life direction that is visible in our actions and particularly our behavior toward others. This may not be the only word on salvation, but it’s an awfully important word for anyone who wants to be a Christian.