A news story went viral this week about a man caught on camera stealing dollar bills from a tip jar at a coffee shop in Ohio. That in itself, unfortunately, is not news. There will probably be enough people caught on camera stealing something somewhere today to put together a greatest thefts video. No, what made it news is how the owner/manger of the coffee shop handled the offense. Not only did he forego filing a report or look to have charges brought against the man, he went a step further and started collecting food in his two stores to give to the man.
The owner, Scott Moses, said, "We assume that if he was desperate enough to steal tips, he's probably in desperate times."
How many of us approach acts of wrong doing against us or others with that same attitude? How often do we fight off our own instinctive judgment of a criminal long enough to recognize someone likely in desperate times? I know I don't do it often enough.
But that coffee shop owner is clearly living the spirit of Christmas.
In the book of John, there is a story about Jesus encountering a samaritan woman at a well. It was high noon, and hot, and Jesus knew that a woman drawing water there alone at that hour of the day must have been an outcast. Indeed she was. Jesus revealed to her that He knew she had had 5 husbands, and the man she was currently living with was not her husband at all. Yet, and in spite of the fact that the Jews didn't associate with the Samaritans, they avoided going through Samaria all together, Jesus was standing there talking to the woman. Offering her hope. Telling her he had no interest in bringing charges against her, but was was starting a food drive for her at the local coffee shops he owned.
I'm grateful that a baby born in a manger came to me knowing full well I was probably in desperate times, and that instead of bringing charges against me, he took them upon himself. He knew that I would probably always be in desperate times, and that I would always need compassion and understanding, and dying a brutal death on a cross would probably be the only way I'd forever know just how much he understands that.
This week, we are all going to be challenged to feel compassion. The media will begin remembering, in very dramatic ways, I'm sure, the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, and the number of innocent lives that were lost. Most of them young children. We will re-live the nightmare and be reminded of the pain and suffering the parents, friends and family have endured since that day. And our hearts will hurt for them.
But will our hearts hurt for Adam Lanza, the twenty year old kid who coldly and with unthinkable calculation walked into a school and began randomly stealing decades of holiday celebrations and memories to come. Will we allow ourselves to consider that the brutal deaths of innocent people came at the hands of someone who was probably living in his own desperate times, a walking nightmare, while understanding such consideration doesn't excuse the act or make it any less wrong, it just looks at it through the eyes of compassion. And although no amount of compassion can undo what he did, and bring back the boys and girls moms and dads would give anything to have back, maybe through the eyes of compassion we can look at and treat others as if they are living in a kind of desperate times we know nothing about.
I think more often than not our hearts would feel compassion if it weren't for our minds. It is hard for us to think of ourselves sticking a hand in someone else's tip jar, or blazing through the hallways of an elementary school with a semi-automatic rifle. But if we forced ourselves to think of these events through the mind of a hungry person, or one battling mental illness, it would clear many of the barricades along the road that connects our hearts to our minds.
This Christmas, remember, Christ came to us not because he thought we might one day break, but because he knew we were already broken. He's asked us to understand that very thing about our neighbors. He wants us to go to Samaria where others say we have no business being, he wants us having food drives for folks others say don't deserve it. Without that understanding, the spirit of Christmas isn't very spiritual at all.
Read the USA TODAY story and see a video about the coffee shop food drive: Click Here