The names and details in the following story may be changed to protect anonymity.
I work in the District Clerk's office of some random Texan county. The District Clerk has many duties, and among these duties is the responsibility to collect money (fines, fees, court costs) from convicted felons. Generally, as i understand it, these felons, who are either released from prison or on probation, or some such situation of trying to hopefully get their lives in order, are placed often on a payment plan which requires them to come to our office on a regular basis to make their payments.
When these folks come in to make their payments, they most often make them to a beautiful, white-haired cashier, who we'll call Esther. My desk is within earshot of Esther's place at the front counter, and i am often able to overhear the conversations she has with her customers. The thing that struck me immediately is that all the recovering felons know her by her first name. And they sound happy to see her. They ask her about her children and her husband . . . how he's doing, since they remember he was maybe not feeling so good the last time they were in. . .
A question mark rose up in my head, which keeps me listening to Esther's conversations.
Here's the remarkable thing i noticed. These regular folks, who happen to be paying fees for really big mistakes they've made, are just regular people to Esther. She doesn't talk to them differently because they've messed up. She doesn't appear to be afraid of them. In fact, they way she speaks to them, i expect that Esther could easily bring the biggest, angriest, ill-intented felon to smiles and hugs in a matter of minutes.
Now don't get me wrong, Esther's not in danger. There are bars protecting her and the money from any random stranger who walks in our office. But her words and her manner are kind. Always kind. No matter whom she speaks to.
This is a display of her honor to me. She does not judge these people. She speaks to them and converses with them with the same warmness she speaks to any of her co-workers, and i suspect the cashier at the grocery store and her favorite grandchild, alike. Her kindness is generous and available to anyone. Over and over, i have heard one of these folks eagerly announce to Esther how close they were to paying off their fees -- or, "this is my last payment!" And then i've heard her encourage them and congratulate them with every bit of the sincerity she might use when congratulating her grandson for winning a baseball game, or . . . well, you get the point. She doesn't make people pay daily penalties of shame. She lifts them up. I think she's part of the rehab program - but in disguise. People LIKE to bring her their money because she makes it such a pleasant experience for them.
Treating people with love and kindness, no matter what dirty secret you know or suspect about them. I admit that i don't know myself to be as open and fair as Esther. But she has shown me what it looks like, so i will aspire to it.
There's a really great scripture that goes with this story - about not seating the poor man on the floor and the rich man at the head of the table -- or something to that effect. I can't lay my finger on it right now, but i think Esther read that scripture and took it to heart.
After all, God looks at the heart, and i'm not sure He makes too much distinction between hateful words, felonies, and misdemeanors. And He loves us all the same.