Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some Burning Coals For Us

The story below put tears in my eyes.

Over the last month I've been engaged in several (at times) heated discussions, covering topics from faith and patriotism to the role of denominations in the ordination of ministers (see the posts below). The point, at least for me, is that those issues can easily represent a great 'missing of the point' for those of us who call ourselves Christians.

Those topics, which generate so much heat in our public and private discussions, miss the point because they rarely lead to any meaningful improvement in the ways we share the faith with people in or out of the church.

That's too bad.

One of the threads that keeps me identified as a 'card-carrying evangelical' is the priority we're supposed to place on drawing new believers into the fold. Isn't that what we're all about? And if that's the case, then isn't any topic/argument/action that doesn't contribute to the accomplishing of that priority an exercise in missing the point?

Now I'm not naive. I know that the story below fits into the 'man-bites-dog' category, which is why it made the news. But there's a twinge in me that wishes that more Christians would behave this way toward their enemies, not for the headlines but so that more people would be drawn to faith in Jesus (see above).

This news item made me revisit Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan. The point of that parable wasn't simply that one guy helped another, but rather that a guy who was hated and marginalized by Jesus' audience helped another. Keep that in mind as you read what follows.

In Proverbs we see a strange phrase, one that is quoted later in Paul's Letter to the Romans :

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

The point of this text is that when we respond in a way that goes against people's expectations, with radical generosity, we can make them rethink how they see us and what we believe.

Take a moment to read the story. See it as a dare to act in a radical way to reach out to those we might have a right to avoid or reject. See it as an example of how to behave, courtesy of someone who represents a group that many of us would rather hate or marginalize.

Look out for the hot coals.

I look forward to your comments.

By FRANK ELTMAN, Associated Press Writer

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – A rifle-toting convenience store owner said he decided to show mercy on a would-be robber after seeing the man collapse into tears and claim he was only committing the crime to support his starving family.

The Long Island store owner provided the bat-wielding man with $40 and a loaf of bread and made him promise never to rob again.

"This was a grown man, crying like a baby," Mohammad Sohail, owner of the Shirley Express convenience store about 65 miles east of New York City, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The man dropped the bat, picked up the bread and tucked the $40 into his waistband before fleeing, said Suffolk County police Sgt. John Best.

Sohail, who moved to the United States from Pakistan about 20 years ago, said he was getting ready to close his store shortly after midnight on May 21 when the man in his 40s entered with a bat in his hand. Sohail said he tried to stall for a moment and then grabbed a rifle he keeps behind the counter and ordered the assailant to drop the bat.

The would-be thief dropped to his knees and begged for forgiveness, Sohail said.

"He started crying that he was out of work and was trying to feed his hungry family," he said. "I felt bad for him. I mean, this wasn't some kid."

He said he tossed $40 to the man, who then stood up and told Sohail he was inspired by the act of mercy and wanted to become a fellow Muslim. Sohail said he led the man in a profession of Muslim faith and the two ended up shaking hands.

Sohail said he went to the back of the store to get some milk to give to the man, but when he returned the man had fled. He said he called police and reported the attempted robbery, but he doesn't want to press charges if the man is ever caught.

Best said detectives have reviewed a store surveillance video of the attempted holdup, but said it would be difficult for anyone to identify the suspect because he was wearing a mask.

Sohail, who said he had never been the victim of a robbery attempt, said he didn't expect any accolades for what he had done.

"I'm a very little man. I just did a good job," said the married father of one. "I have a good feeling in my heart. I feel very good."


  1. Anonymous6:21 AM

    This is a heartening, feel-good story. One can certainly see elements of the "Good Samaritan" story therein. However, not so fast. A few things that jumped out at me: 1.) The hero, Mr. Mohammed the store owner, was being robbed by a man with a baseball bat....and had a little surprise waiting for the would-be-thief--a loaded rifle!! Mr. Mohammed was large-and-in-charge of this entire scenario! 2.) The thief, stopped his pernicious behavior and repented of his wrongdoing--probably a genuine act of contrition as one might expect the "run, run away" strategem to be the default mode in such a confrontation. Acknowledging these two facts, one wonders what might have happened had the ne'er-do-well simply fled...might Mr. Mohammed have chased him with a bullet or two down the street? Again, if the thief would have had less of a conscience and come at Mr. Mohammed swinging his Louisville Slugger, what's the likelihood that he would have responded with some teflon-coated bullets instead of a loaf of bread? Finally, had Mr. Mohammed not had his rifle, how would the situation have broken down? Perhaps, with Mr. Mohammed with an empty cash register, on his knees, crying, begging the fellow not to bash his head in with the baseball bat because he was only trying to feed his family in operating his store. So, all in all--not so much like the Good Samaritan when you boil down the surrounding circumstances. Given what actually occurred, I think a fair number within your reading demographic might just have reacted the way that the good Mr. Mohammed did--so that's encouraging. If anything, the story probably ends up being as much an endorsement of the rule of grace and mercy as coupled with the worldly-wise wisdom of the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in the promotion of self-defense and Mr. Mohammed's good fortune to live in a state which apparently allows citizens the right to defend themselves, their property, and their loved ones in the face of evil.

  2. I saw that on one of my online news sites. Last night they posted a video courtesy of the NY tv station, that included the inside store video camera that showed the ordeal. I couldn't get you the direct link to the video but the news site I saw it at was and they had video from WCBS TV from New York City.


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