What Happened At Theo’s
A Rabid Fundamentalist Column
John W. Cowart
One of the most embarrassing moments of my life came many years ago in Washington, D.C., as a result of my being a mediocre sort of Christian.
When it happened, I could envision newspaper headlines saying:
Enraged Cook batters local man
Nosy Christian beaned by cook
Wino scam exposed at local eatery
Cowart creamed with soup ladle: He deserved it.
Any of the above headline titles would have been appropriate.
It was the girls in miniskirts and tight sweaters that got me into trouble. Or maybe it was the old wino. Maybe it was my wife's fault, she should have told me to meet her someplace else. No, It was all that mean Greek cook's fault; if he'd have listened when I tried to explain, none of the furor would have erupted.
It was not my fault.
I repeat: It Was Not My Fault!
All I was trying to do was be a nice guy, a good steward of my money, a protector of the poor, a kind and noble gentleman, a witness to my Lord, a big-hearted, generous Christian, a... Well, Ok, you're right; I was being a patronizing ass.
Details. You want details. I'll give you details:
See, I was painting the house that day, scraping eaves. Naturally, I wore my oldest, rattiest clothes and, to keep paint flakes from dropping down my collar, I wore this old baseball cap turned around backwards.
That morning, I'd left my keys, billfold, comb -- pocket-stuff -- on the dresser to keep them from getting messed up. A prudent move as I'm a sloppy painter.
Since I was off work, I had not shaved that morning. Actually, now that my rememberer gets better, I hadn't shave that whole week.
No problem. Who's to impress scraping eaves?
Well, my wife had told me to meet her across from the library and when I came to a good breaking-off place early, I decided to mosey on down to the library early.
Well, no. I wandered down early to sit in the park across the street and watch all the cute co-eds swish in and out the library doors. What can I say; it was Spring Break and the girls strutted at their finest.
Well, this poor old wino (that's what they were called back then) came up to me and asked for money for food. Said he had not eaten anything but a can of sardines and part of a watermelon in days.
Immediately, my thought mode shifted from lusting lounger to caring -- but prudent -- Christian; I'm like that.
I believe that Jesus was serious when he said that to feed the poor is the same as feeding Christ himself.
But, what about His teaching about watching coeds and lusting in your heart?
Well, as a fundamentalist Christian I have this tendency to believe convenient Bible verses more than I believe inconvenient ones, general ones more than specific ones, ones that apply to you more than ones that apply to me.
Am I the only Christian like that?
Anyhow, the Christian gears in my mind kicked in and Big Daddy John decided to feed the poor heathen. (Eat your heart out Mother Teresa; This one’s mine.) The prudent gears of my mind kicked in at the same time saying: Watch out John. If you give this guy cash, he'll just buy a bottle.
The two gears meshed and I proudly said, "I won't give you any money -- but I will buy you lunch".
DAH-DA! Cowart the prudent Christian strikes again.
We walked down the street to this little hole-in-the-wall greasy-spoon restaurant called Theos'. And I ordered the house specialty, bean soup and a couple of burgers, for both of us.
I was feeding a real live poor person.
Wouldn't God have been proud of me?
The old wino slurped down his soup in a hurry. The sudden food after days of privation upset his stomach. He stuffed the soda crackers and his burger in his tattered coat pocket and rushed out of the restaurant.
Hey, I never got to witness to him.
I didn’t get to read him Four Things God Wants You To Know.
I leisurely finished my own meal as the place began to fill up with a lunchtime crowd of clerks and secretaries from nearby offices.
I strolled up to the register to pay the bill and reached for my billfold...
MY BILLFOLD! It was on the dresser at home! I was in my painting clothes. I did not have a cent on me!
I tried to explain to the cashier, a brassy red-head with too much makeup.
"Hey, Theo," she yelled startling the lunchtime crowd. "Hey, Theo. Got a bum out here who won't pay!"
Theo -- big, dark, Greek, tatoos on both arms, beer-belly wrapped in a dirty apron-- stalked from the kitchen hefting a dripping soup-ladle.
"Who's the bum that won't pay," he shouted.
People at the counter stepped back. Several actually pointed their fingers at me.
I tried to explain about being a Christian helping a poor stranger.
Theo would not listen.
He banged on the counter.
"You two bums try to pull this scam off everywhere you go, don't you," he accused shaking the dripping soup ladle in my face.
The watching crowd of well-dressed office workers expected him to brain me with that ladle.
I think they would have cheered.
How could my act of Christian charity gone so wrong?
Now what was I supposed to do?
What could I do?
I... I… Well, to tell the truth, I started crying.
I felt so embarrassed.
With all those office people looking on too.
It's not supposed to work that way, is it? When you do good you ought to be rewarded, praised, admired. Aren't you?
Jesus taught that a servant is no better than his master, a student is no better than his teacher. If the world crucified Christ himself, why should his followers expect any better treatment?
We are to follow him regardless.
Because He is truth.
A stranger at the counter, I think he was a Jewish gentleman, took pity on me and intervened with Theo. He promised to pay the bill for me and the other bum the next day if I did not come back with the money like I said I would.
Theo knew the businessman and reluctantly let me go.
Even when I returned with my billfold later that afternoon to pay him, Theo suspected a trick.
He examined my money carefully.
He thought I was pulling a scam even then.
He told me to never come back in his restaurant.
And I never did go back there. I felt too ashamed.
That was years ago. Now, whenever a homeless person asks me for help, I try to give it in the form he asks.
After all, I ask for what I want and I expect to receive just that.
Jesus Himself said, "When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, loan it to them" (Matthew 5:42 CEV).
The Apostle John said, "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (I John 3:17).
John the Baptist said, "If you have two coats, give one to someone who doesn't have any. If you have food, share it with someone else." (Luke 3:11 CEV).
We should live generously
That’s the way to live.
But first make sure your billfold is in your back pocket.
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