There’s this trope in evangelicalism that says you’re supposed to witness to people at bus stops and on airplanes. It’s the same trope that says if you see someone in need at the grocery store you should immediately offer to help.
I’ve never really questioned that impulse.
I was at the grocery store at 7:30am, and the elderly man in front of me smelled like booze, couldn’t stop farting, and was paying for two boxes of wine with spare change. Everything in me thought, “This is sad and terrible, and I ought to do something,” but I couldn’t figure out what to do. So I asked God. I didn’t get an answer. I thought maybe I should start a conversation with the man and offer him help, but the more I weighed that, the more it didn’t feel like what I should do. I began to ask “What would Jesus do?”
And realized I didn’t know.
The Gospel makes it clear Jesus sometimes spoke to strangers (Mark 10.46-52; John 4.1-26), but the Bible also tells us sometimes Jesus just moved through crowds without engaging anyone (Luke 19.41; Luke 4.28-30). But a quick survey of the scripture demonstrates that Jesus largely avoided strangers, and the times he did insert himself were so rare they were worth commemorating because of their special quality.
So if you always feel guilty that you don’t evangelize on the street, allow me to release you from that guilt and suggest instead that you live like Jesus, who was obedient to the will of his Father and who only did what his Father wanted him to do (John 4.34; John 5.30). Simply ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do in this situation?” It might be nothing, and if so, good! Any unsponsored impulses may result in a frightened businessman in seat A-1 shouting “stranger danger!” and pointing at you.