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Shoplifters Will Be Prosecuted… Or Not…

March 21st, 2012by Joe Ollier

I’m a criminal.  A shoplifter.  Not only that, but a repeat offender.  The other night I went into a local grocery store to pick up a couple things—cold medicine, a gallon of milk, stuff like that.  It was about 9:00 and I was in a hurry because I was already running late and I had one more stop before I could go home for the night.

So I bring my few items to the U-Scan.  I love the U-Scan.  I’ve really gotten pretty good at knowing the PLU codes for fruits and veggies, finding hidden barcodes on packages, and bagging groceries with lightening speed.  I’m actually kind of a grocery geek, to be honest.

Anyway, I scan my groceries through, bag ‘em, walk out to my car, and run my last errand for the night.  OK, it was supposed to be my last errand.  You see, as I begin my drive home, I look for the grocery store receipt and realize that I don’t have it.  And then it dawns on me.  I never paid for the groceries.  I bagged them and left without ever taking out my wallet. So I call home, let my very patient wife know why I’ll be even later, and drive back to the store.

It’s rather awkward to walk up to the service desk and say, “Um, excuse me, but I was here a little while ago and left without paying for my stuff.” But the lady at the counter was very kind, and found the record of my “purchases” so I could actually pay for them. She thanked me a ton for coming back, saying, “That hardly ever happens.”

Sad thing is, I’ve done this before. Same store a couple years ago.  (And the Bazooka gum incident at the Woolworth when I was five, but I’d rather not go there.)  The thing is, the response each time at the grocery was the same. And both times I left feeling pretty good about myself for being the rare honest man. But why?

Why should I feel good about paying for my groceries—something I should have done in the first place?  I mean, isn’t paying for my groceries sort of a bare minimum for decent behavior?  It’s not like I did anything heroic, like pay for a poor single mom in front of me or anything like that.  You really can’t ask much less of a person than to pay for the stuff they take out of a store.

And honestly, if there’s one thing Jesus teaches again and again it’s that the bare minimum doesn’t cut it.  “Let your light shine,” “pick up your cross,” “sell all you have,” “lay down your life,” “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors,” “forgive 70 times 7 times,” “feed the hungry,” “visit the imprisoned,” “follow me”— these things are hard, but these are the very things we’re told are essential to being a disciple of Jesus. So if I’m proud because I paid for my groceries, well, then, I’ve got some work to do.

Photo credit: flickr/elle lindsey
Joe Ollier

Joe Ollier is the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Ascension Parish in Kettering where he and his family are. He has 20 years experience in youth ministry and a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.