Sin Paid for Mr. Barr

By Edward Fudge

Several months ago I was downtown Saint Louis on routine business. On the way back to my car, there in the heart of the city, I came upon a man with his hand out. He was poorly dressed … dirty … and needed a shave. A first impulse said to pass him by (“hes probably going to blow it on liquor anyway”) but something inside (no, God didnt whisper in my ear) said “wait.” I asked what he needed. “Something to eat.” I asked when he last ate. He said the day before.

There was a Burger Chef just around the comer and it was lunchtime. So we two enjoyed cheeseburgers and milk shakes. While we ate, we talked. Some about Christ. Some about my new-found friend, Mr. Barr. His story went something like this.

Mr. Barr was once a successful small-business man in St. Louis — ran a catering service, I believe. He became involved in problems and turned to alcohol. This led to more problems. In the end his wife left him, his business broke and he landed on the streets. He now had a new set of problems. There were – as he told it – cruel children the “elements” . . . unkind policemen … plus finding food to stay alive each day. He bad an appointment for a job interview the day before, but it is hard to make it to a morning appointment on time with no alarm clock but the sun, no transportation but feet, and no friends or family to help. So he was late and missed the job.

Mr. Barr gave me some advice. Sin, he said, is gradual and deceptive. As he put it, there are three steps to the bottom. First you tolerate sin. Next you endure it. Finally you embrace it. (I couldnt help thinking of Psalm one in this connection.) Then Mr. Barr produced a thick, stubby pencil from a pocket and wrote those, words very slowly and carefully for me on a paper sack: “Weave carefully the threads of habit, lest they become a cable too strong to break.” His mother had taught him the saying many years ago.

Preacher talk? Hardly. This was experience speaking. This was the man they dont show on the commercials. He worked hard for sin, for several years. Sin had finally paid off. One last thought: I can imagine Jesus concluding this story by beginning another. “Two men went up into the temple to pray . . .”

June 15, 1972