I was getting into my car with the chicken I’d bought for dinner when I spotted the penny on the asphalt buried by rainwater. It was cold. I got the shivers when I put it in my palm and it clanked against my ring. The feeling of wanting to shake off the chill reminded me of the lady I’ve been thinking about all week. A woman I’ve never yet she still weighed heavy on my heart.
“Lord, would it have been any different if she’d bought chicken instead of steak?” I asked under my breath.
“No,” he whispered in my heart, “that’s not the point.”
I drove home imagining what it would have felt like if I’d been in her shoes. How would I have responded if the man behind me in the check-out line scolded me for my purchase when I paid for it with food stamps? Would any embarrassment I felt have turned to fear when he followed me out to the parking lot to see what kind of car I got in? Did he really expect me to thank him when I bought the food or was he joking?
These thoughts and more have bothered me all week after reading the Facebook post of a friend in which he describes sarcastically confronting a woman at the grocery store. I don’t know what hurt my heart more, his initial comments or all the follow-up comments and “likes”. Out of sixteen folks only one was brave enough to challenge him. The rest all hopped on the bandwagon crucifying a woman on public assistance for buying some steaks and barbecue sauce. She was flogged for not only her meat choice but the fact that she was wearing a, “nice size rock” and driving a Toyota.
Without any opportunity to defend herself this woman was tried and convicted by a group of people I hardly think are her peers. I’m not sure she’d even want them to be. I wouldn’t and yet I know some of them. It made me feel terrible. What qualified any of them to judge this woman especially without knowing her whole story? She was deemed a fraud from a mere snapshot of her life.
The anger directed toward her was outrageous. I hate fraud like anyone else. I hate it on either end of the spectrum and in conversation with friends and family I don’t mind saying so. To actually accuse someone of fraud though is another matter entirely. Before you can walk across that burning bridge you need to be very certain you have sufficient grounds to warrant your claim. Is that even possible in the check-out line at the grocery store? No.
This is why I was so upset. A steak dinner, piece of jewelry, and Toyota are hardly smoking guns. I’m not an expert but I would guess that kind of evidence would count as merely circumstantial. Without any bigger context that’s not enough to make a case.
What if the woman was feeding eight people with four steaks that they were all going to split—would that be considered extravagant? What if the car belonged to a friend? Or what it she bought it used like I did mine, and paid cash after saving for years? Would it still be considered a luxury even if she needed it to get to work? What if the ring has little to no value? I wear a diamond ring with stones that are so old and poorly cut a pawn shop wouldn’t take it. The best I could do would be to sell it for the gold but that would be very hard for me to do. The stones came from the rings of my Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, and Mother. I’d probably donate blood for money rather than part with it.
I thank God that’s not something I have to even consider but if my circumstances were to change and I was the one buying the steaks, the shame heaped on me by a total stranger would have felt horrible. However, when I saw him drive away with a bumper sticker proudly stating his child attends a private Christian school, my shame would have turned to anger.
Mulling all this over I couldn’t help but think about all the political advertisements we’re bombarded with here in Colorado. As a battleground state we’ve had more Presidential visits and nominees roll through town than ever. Turning on the television to watch anything subjects you to a barrage of negative ads. In several the phrase, “shame on you” is even used.
It’s nauseating and after my friend’s behavior in the supermarket I’m inclined to say the backlash is not limited to the candidates and their parties. It’s hitting so close to home folks are passing judgment on everyone they see. Our country is more polarized than ever.
It’s tragic and Christians have to do better. We have to do a better job of choosing our words carefully and knowing when to keep our mouth shut. Not every issue has to be debated and not everyone needs to know your opinion. If, however, there’s something you are truly called to say speak softly and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. Shame never changes someone’s mind it only entrenches their position.
Jesus sat down to deliver the Sermon on the Mount. He didn’t stand on a high horse and shout. He just taught and one of the many things he said is, “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1)
That’s not an easy command to live up to but we have to try. Self-righteousness and a critical spirit will get you nowhere, and it certainly won’t get someone out of the parking lot and into a faith community of any kind.