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laguardiaWhen Edward Everett Hale was Chaplain of the Senate, someone asked him, Do you pray for the senators, Dr. Hale?  He replied, No, I look at the senators and I pray for the country.

We all need to receive the Grace of God.  It Is All About Grace!

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.  They began eliminating various possibilities.  Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods appearing in human form.  Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death.  The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room.   "What is the rumpus all about?"  He asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity's unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, "Oh, that is easy.  It is grace."

It is all about Grace.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City, which was during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II, was called by many New Yorkers The Little Flower because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel.  He was a colorful character who used to ride the New Your City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court in an area that served the poorest ward in the city.  LaGuardia had dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread.

She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.  But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.  It is a real bad neighborhood, your Honor. The shopkeeper told the mayor.   She's got to be punished to teach others around here a lesson.  LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, I have got to punish you.  The law makes no exceptions ten dollars or ten days in jail.

But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket.  He extracted a bill and tossed it into his hat saying, Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.  Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.

The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner.  While some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Here is my question. Did the elderly lady in the story get what she deserved?   Clearly the answer is, of course not. She had stolen a loaf of bread.  Yes, she may have had a reason, but stealing is stealing and regardless of the reason, punishment would seem to be the order of the day.  What we see in the story is called grace.

Grace is when one in superior power shows kindness or mercy to one in a lesser position.  Mayor LaGuardia, rather than demanding punishment of the woman herself, paid the fine and then further helped her cause with the collection of the fifty-cent fines and then gave the money to her.  It was more than she deserved. It was grace.

That is what this lesson is all about.  It is all about Grace!

J. Jeffrey Smead