I pushed our driveway gate open and groaned inwardly as I saw our elderly neighbour approaching. He is new to the area, has time on his hands and likes to talk, but I was already running late.
Smiling politely, I hoisted my toddler into his car seat and promised apologetically that I would drop by when I returned from the school run.
Twenty minutes later, I put on a mask, took my toddler by the hand and knocked on the man’s door. The elderly couple welcomed us warmly. It was the first time I had met his wife. Although they had only lived in the house for a couple of weeks, it was already perfectly organised and spotlessly clean. I hoped my toddler wouldn’t break anything.
“What is the difference?”
We talked about insulation and their former employment, then the conversation turned to my husband’s work as a pastor and they asked a question that we often hear in France: “What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant?” They knew we didn’t worship Mary and told me that they had read in the Bible that she had other children after Jesus – unusual for Catholics.
I explained a bit about the Reformation and Luther’s discovery of the simple gospel message. They nodded in agreement as I talked about salvation through faith in Jesus’ death for sinners. The lady excused herself for a moment (telling me all about her various medical ailments with typical French frankness on the subject) and while she was out of the room, Monsieur said that he had always sought to live a good life and not harm anyone. ‘I never harbour hard feelings towards someone after a disagreement.’ I agreed that it was a good way to live but added that even those of us who seek to live good lives have done things wrong and need the Saviour. The lady returned as Monsieur was telling me that he didn’t think he was a sinner.
I thought about the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector that we had read as a family the night before. “Lord, should I share it? It’s our first proper meeting. I don’t want to offend them!” Their enthusiasm for the conversation encouraged me to take the plunge. My toddler was lying on the floor, pulling himself in circles around chair legs.
As I recounted the story in Luke 18:9-14, I could see they identified with the Pharisee! At their confusion that the tax collector ended up right with God, I explained the gospel again and asked if they had ever asked God to forgive them. Madame exclaimed, “Jamais de ma vie! (never in my life!)” as if I had suggested the unthinkable! She spoke of her good life and how hard she had worked to bring up her children well.
I decided to say one last thing. “I don’t mean to be difficult, but the Bible is very clear that we cannot be saved through our own goodness. It’s important to come humbly to God, confess the wrong things we have done and trust in Jesus for forgiveness.”
“Lord, should I share it? It’s only our first proper meeting. I don’t want to offend them!”
They nodded and said “oui, oui!” but I wasn’t sure if they had really understood. The conversation turned to other matters. They seemed sorry when I left, which was reassuring – it’s always hard to know how direct to be!
A week later I took them an English Christmas cake and the French Carol Service DVD our church had made.
Please pray for the many French Catholics in our village who are like this kind elderly couple: moral people, who have sadly never understood their sin or what it means to be born again. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) May the Holy Spirit open eyes to see that we are all in the latter category!