I failed the ‘What would Jesus do?’ test
‘Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’
I’m sitting on a suburban Sydney train awash with guilt in the aftermath of a confronting incident: A woman barges up the stairs and politely but assertively commands the attention of all in the carriage.
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. I’m homeless and I’m pregnant,” she says. “I’m hoping you can help me pay for a hostel for the night by giving $5 or $10. I swear on the life of my unborn child, that I won’t use the money for drugs or alcohol.”
A man standing closest to her in the aisle whips $10 out of his wallet. The rest of us shift uncomfortably in our seats.
The woman, probably in her late 30s or early 40s, is suitably thankful and encourages more of us to cough up. She presses her belly and takes in a sharp breath, grimacing in pain.
Her “baby bump” has shifted. It’s looking somewhat deflated and rather rectangular, leaning to one side.
At this point, I offer her my seat. She politely declines.
As one lady passes over a fiver, another offers a curly question: “Why are you pregnant if you’re homeless?”
“I don’t wish to discuss that,” snaps our visitor, as she takes another pained breath while rubbing her stomach.
By this time, I’ve pulled out my wallet to assess the contents. Only twenties, no fives or tens.
Then I notice two things: 1. Her right earlobe is torn, as if an earring has been ripped right through the base of the lobe. 2. Her “baby bump” has shifted. It’s looking somewhat deflated and rather rectangular, leaning to one side.
I slide my wallet back into my handbag.
Having exhausted the benefactors at the front of the carriage, the woman is working her way towards the back, collecting a meagre number of five and ten-dollar notes on her way.
I’m on the far side of a three-person seat … meaning our conversation would be more of a shouting match.
Meanwhile, I’m in the midst of inner turmoil. Yes, the baby bump is almost certainly fake and her breaths resemble a labour scene in a bad TV drama. And now, at the end of the carriage with a handful of cash, she seems to have forgotten about the discomfort altogether.
As she turns about face and strides back down the carriage towards me, I’m still wrestling with the “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” dilemma. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I ask myself. I part with a pretty insignificant amount of money … that helps a drug addict get high?
I’m trying to imagine how Jesus would respond; most likely he would talk with her, kindly and attentively. But I can’t see this option working in a cramped city train. Besides, I’m on the far side of a three-person seat, pressed against the window, meaning our conversation would be more of a shouting match over heads of jaded workers just trying to get home.
It’s one thing to lie about your situation to claim some cash from unsuspecting commuters, but it’s another to bring God into your scam.
Then she pipes up with the “God bless yous”. This, quite frankly, annoys me. It’s one thing to lie about your situation to claim some cash from unsuspecting commuters, but it’s another to bring God into your scam.
Now I’m almost sure that I won’t take my final chance to give her money as she waits near the stairs for any late punters. And yet, even while my hands stay put in my lap, my heart is bursting with remorse that I’ve failed the “What would Jesus do?” test.
Even if she was pulling the wool over eyes about the pregnancy, the homelessness part is almost certainly true, judging by her clothes, hair, teeth – and her desperation for money, whatever it will be spent on.
As she heads down the stairs, perhaps to confront another train carriage, I try to console myself with the fact that I have often given money to people living rough on city streets. I even blessed an elderly lady with $50 when she had simply asked for the bus fare home.
But this is cold comfort. Thinking of the family, home and warmth I will head to after disembarking the train, I remember another comment in her opening statement: “I don’t have any family to help.” I swallow hard. This is also likely to be true.
And so, as I sit full of shame in the post-incident carriage, full of people with heads full of their own reflections, I do the only thing I can: pray. I pray for God’s provision for this lady and for her soul. And in the wake of my recent Christ-less behaviour, I am convicted to pray just as urgently for my own soul.