A young man walks unsteadily into the church. He is unshaven; his hair is unkempt; his clothes are dirty and ragged. The congregants – in their usual pews – look at him out of the corners of their eyes. Their glances hint at their thoughts: “What is he doing in here? Why isn’t he dressed properly? One of the deacons should take care of him.”
By the end of the service, the young man identifies himself. Everyone recognizes him; he is a church member, a youth leader. His purpose: to remind the congregation of Jesus’s command: to love the unlovely, to feed the hungry – “ I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matt. 25:35-36)
Sometimes we need to be reminded, as in the following story:
The Covenant Players are an international Christian drama group, based in Southern California. This incident took place in 1977 in Queensland, Australia, where our family lived and where my husband pastored the local Baptist church.
The group, including two men and two women, was staying with us in the “manse” (“parsonage” to you Yankees). Their major presentation was to be in our evening service, but we had decided a short skit in the morning service would be a good idea. It would acquaint our people with what the group would be doing that evening.
In this church, I always sat next to Ruby, on her left. Her husband Jack, who greeted people at the door, sat on her right once the service began.
Mike, a Covenant Player, was to perform in the skit and, after breakfast, in order to get into character, he rubbed dirt from my sack of potatoes onto his arms, took off his shoes and rubbed dirt on his feet.
I didn’t know the details of the skit, but worried a bit at his appearance. How would our “up-town” church folk react to someone who looked like a homeless man in need of a shower? Would we pass or fail “the test”?
Mike had already walked over to the church before I made my way. When I entered, I saw at once a potential problem: Mike was sitting next to Ruby – in Jack’s seat! “What is Ruby thinking?” I asked myself. “What did Jack think when he saw Mike come into church barefooted and scruffy?”
Mike and one of the female players performed their short skit: the homeless man seeking a friend and someone to care; the female too busy reading her Bible to pay any attention to him. (A point easily and well made.)
After the skit, Mike went back to the house, cleaned up, put his shoes on, and returned to church for the service.
Sometime later, I asked Mike how he’d been treated at the door by Jack. “He treated me just like everybody else,” Mike said. “Welcomed me, handed me a hymnal and directed me to a seat.” We had passed the first part of the test.
When I asked Ruby what she had thought when this scruffy-looking guy sat next to her – and he was barefooted, her reply was, “Well, I looked at his bare feet, and I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if Jack’s shoes will fit him?’”
These dear people had not judged the dirty barefooted man as someone unworthy to be in “our church.” They had treated him with respect and care, even to the point of instantly wanting to share what they had. Yes, indeed. We had passed the test!