I had suffered through the policeman issuing the speeding ticket, endured traffic school, and now faced my final punishment: standing in line at the courthouse to pay my fine.
My mom had asked me to take my 10-year-old brother, Blake, with me on my errands. As I looked around the courthouse, I noticed several unsavory characters. I was trying to appear confident and grown-up, but I wondered if this might not be the best place to have brought an impressionable kid. I continued to scan the room, lost in my own thoughts, when I felt a tug on my arm. I looked down at Blake, who worriedly whispered, “That lady can’t pay!”
The woman in front of us was discussing her financial situation with the clerk. Apparently, she had already received several extensions on a fine incurred the year before that she hadn’t been able to pay. From their conversation I learned that she was a single mother of several children, working as a substitute teacher. Her fine was substantial for her, and she had no means to pay it.
I dismissed the situation with the thought: “What a shame. Too bad it’s none of my business” and tried to think of something to block out the conversation.
“We should help pay the fine,” my conscience seemed to say. No, wait, it wasn’t my conscience; it was my little brother. “Do you have that much money?” he asked.
I gritted my teeth. I actually did have that much money. I had just received some gift money from relatives and was fortunate to be working a well-paying job. I could easily afford to help the lady. It wasn’t the money though. I tried to explain to Blake that some people don’t like it when others try to solve their problems.
“But she’s a substitute teacher, and it’s June! She won’t have work again until September!” Blake was giving me the look my mom gives me when she knows I am making a dumb excuse. “What do you think Jesus would do?” he asked.
That was the clincher.
With cheeks burning and voice squeaking, I tapped the lady on the shoulder and offered to pay her fine. It didn’t take too much explaining before the woman’s eyes filled with tears. My self-consciousness turned to outright embarrassment as she thanked me profusely. Other people in the line commented that they had wanted to do something but were too uncomfortable to say anything. The clerks behind the counter waived my $7 processing fee. As my face grew redder, Blake seemed to stand a little taller.
I tried to explain to the employees at the counter that it wasn’t I who had decided to step out of social norms and help someone in need. It was the child next to me who had seen a person in trouble and remembered the stories of Jesus among the poor and afflicted. I decided that day I would worry less about appearing grown-up and try harder to be more like a little child, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).