Our Wednesday night church service took a somber turn when a middle-age man came to the front of the sanctuary to speak to the pastor. Sobbing, he said that he’d just been told that his son had been killed in a car wreck in a nearby town. He’d been asked to come to the mortuary and identify the body, but he had no gas money to get there. Our minister hugged the man, cried along with him, and then asked if he’d like him to go with him on his gruesome task. Shaking his head no, he wiped his eyes, thanked the congregation for the money that had quickly been gathered and shoved into his pocket while the men of the church gathered around him in prayer, and left the building.
Some days later we found out that the whole situation had been a hoax. Some in the congregation were angry to learn that they’d been taken advantage of by a con man who played on the sympathies of a compassionate crowd to raise a few dollars for himself. But my husband suggested that perhaps the scenario had been a test to see how we would react to someone needing our help. It reminded us of the “secret shoppers” who come to the grocery store in which I work. Their identities a secret, they act like regular customers and then later grade the employees on how well they performed their duties.
It’s better to lose some cash in a con game of some sort than to have God find us lacking in compassion in a true time of need.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
(Hebrews 13:2 RSV)