There is a young man out there who is a fugitive from justice, and he probably doesn’t even remember his fifth-grade crime. I remember it because when you make a man’s daughter cry, you can make that man rather angry.
It was not a serious crime, and the victim laughs about it now. But, the case has remained unsolved for all these years. It is a “cold case” in our family annuls, but it remains in the file.
The crime: A stolen baseball card. It was lifted from my daughter’s backpack at school, which makes it count not only as a theft but as an invasion of privacy, as well.
The stolen item: An Ozzie Smith card. For the non-baseball fan, Ozzie was the star shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1980s and early 1990s. He amazed fans with his defensive prowess, and he performed a somersault as he ran onto the field at the start of each game. He’s now in the Hall of Fame.
The victim: Tabitha. She remembers and still has a list of suspects filed away in her powerful brain.
The suspects: All of them are about 28 or 29 years old now; they like baseball or once did; and they attended fifth grade in Chatham, Illinois. I have made the assumption the criminal is male, but you never know.
In the larger scheme of things, that Ozzie Smith card crime is not a big deal. But even little crimes hurt, because crimes involve victims. I have been burglarized and stolen from, but I cannot imagine what it feels like to be the victim of violent crime or to have someone you love victimized violently. Even with non-violent crime the victim is left feeling violated and vulnerable, weak against a malevolent strength, angry but with no way to express the anger. Violence must compound those feelings.
Crime separates people. It pits one person or a group of persons against another or others. It can be a holdup in a dark alley or a theft of thousands through fraud. The criminal becomes the enemy of the victim, and you wonder if the criminal already saw the victim as an enemy.
Into that world of enmity, Jesus spoke these challenging words:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NRSV)
I hope the child who stole my daughter’s baseball card did not continue to think he could simply take what he wanted in life. I hope he learned to give and not to take. But if he didn’t I pray he will come to understand that a giving life is a much better life. Maybe he will run across that stolen card in looking through his past and realize that something is missing and turn to Christ for help. If so, then that will be a very valuable baseball card, at least to him. Unless it was a her.