Gain the Same Reputation

Everyone will know you are my followers by this: if you love each other.  

John 13:35        

 In A Severe Mercy Sheldon Vanauken writes of the time he and his wife, Davy, traveled across the Atlantic on an ocean liner. During the voyage, a woman traveling to Rome lost her handbag containing all her money: four hundred dollars. Sheldon and Davy were struck by the fact that there were four hundred passengers on the ship. “Only one dollar apiece,” Vanauken thought, “and the poor lady would smile again.”  

The couple took their idea to the Purser, who said company rules forbade employees from taking up a collection, but urged them to take up a collection themselves.   

The Purser gave them the passenger list and almost everyone – from a Shropshire landed baronet to an American communist gave a contribution. They faced the most suspicion from New Yorkers, who wanted to know what their racket was. They learned to say politely: “Do you mind me asking, are you from New York? You are? Well, never mind, then. We’re not asking New Yorkers – too suspicious. Forget it. Thank you very much.” Later, some of the New Yorkers would sidle up to them and hand them their donation – one giving twenty dollars.  

Vanauken tried to keep their activities anonymous, but someone spilled the beans and the woman, who received the collection, rushed to their dining table and wept in gratitude. The woman was so moved by their compassion that she asked if they were Christians.  


Have you ever gone out of your way to help a stranger and have them ask you that? If you’re a Christian, it’s a gratifying question. But what if you’re not? In Sheldon and Davy’s case, they told the woman, no, they were not Christians.  

It must be annoying for those who don’t follow Jesus to go out of their way to help someone, and then be asked if they’re a Christian. Do you have to be a Christian, for Pete’s sake, just to be kind to someone?  

No, you don’t. But isn’t the question thought-provoking?  Why is it, when we show care to a stranger that we don’t hear them inquire, “Excuse me, but are you an atheist?” Or, “You wouldn’t, by any chance, happen to be a Steelers fan, would you?”  

Sheldon Vanauken and his wife held no religious beliefs. But they were taken aback by the mere assumption that this woman immediately suspected they were Christians. Why, Vanauken wondered, do so many people think that, when compassion is shown, Christians are the most likely culprits?  


History provides exceptions, of course. We point to crusades and inquisitions staged in the name of Christ, to TV evangelists who are con men posing as prophets 

Yet, the very act of pointing out lovelessness in the name of Christ suggests a revealing truth: that Jesus was known by his sacrificial love for the world, and he calls his followers to gain the same reputation.  

(text copyright by Marty Kaarre)