“They prostrated themselves and worshipped the infant, opened the treasure chest, and offered as gifts gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
On Thursday, October 24, 1929 (later called Dark Thursday), the Great Depression began with the stock market crash on Wall Street in the United States. Until then, everyone had stocks, and the illusion that “stocks always go up” collapsed in an instant, and stocks became as good as scrap paper. In the 1930s, people even starved to death in New York City, and this is a story that actually happened that cold winter.
An old woman stole a loaf of bread from a bakery. During the Great Depression, the bakery must have been the victim of frequent bread thefts. The owner of the bakery wanted to take the old woman to court. The old woman had one sickly daughter, whose husband had run away and she did not know where he was now. Her grandchildren were hungry every day. The old woman pleads with him for forgiveness, but the bakery owner stubbornly refused to listen, saying that society would never improve if people like this were allowed to go on free, and that he would take her to court to make an example of her.
Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables,” was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Rumors circulated about what kind of sentence would be handed down to this female Jean Valjean who stole the loaf of bread, and many people came to the court to hear the trial. The old woman heartbreakingly told the judge about her painful situation. The judge listened to her story and, after much deliberation, made the following decision: “Regrettably, you have to obey the law. We cannot make exceptions. You must pay a $10 fine. Failure to do so will result in 10 days in jail.” The old woman broke down and cried on the floor. But the judge continued, “As the judge, I am also ordering you all to pay a fine.” Everyone looked up in surprise, as if to say, “We have done nothing wrong!” The judge continued, “I am ordering a fine of 50 cents for each of you for the crime of living in this city where this old woman was forced to steal bread for her daughter and grandson.” With these words, the judge himself took a ten-dollar bill from the pocket of his suit, put it in his hat, and ordered a young employee of the court to pass it around to everyone. Eventually, the grandmother left the courthouse that day with $57.50 in her pocket and a feeling of gratitude in her heart.
The judge did not grant the grandmother a dispensation from the sentence. Stealing bread is certainly not good. So he sentenced her according to the law. The grandmother paid the fine according to the sentence, but in fact, the $10 fine was money that the judge himself had given as his own fine. And the law that says “the old lady had to steal the bread for the crime of being a resident of this town” is a law that the judge made up on his own, so in essence, it was everyone’s fault that the old lady had to steal the bread, a judgment full of American wit and humor. I think Japanese bureaucrats also need a little more of this kind of wit and humor. By the way, Jean Valjean was saved by his encounter with the good Bishop Miriel. There is something about this judge that reminds me of that Bishop Miriel.
Now, when the judge left the courtroom, just as Ukrainian President Zelensky was greeted with a standing ovation from the deputies when he visited the U.S. Congress, the bystanders stood in total awe and applauded the judge who made this great decision.
The New Year has begun. What awaits us in the year ahead? There will certainly be many challenges ahead. However, even though the world may seem to be full of bad things, please realize that there are more good things in the world than bad things, for society is working properly because of the actions of countless people of good will like that judge.
Today is the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany. The Magi from the East prostrated themselves before the infant Jesus and offered Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But in reality, Jesus Himself is prostrating Himself before the precious life of each one of us and providing us with everything we need to live, isn’t He? Even though God, like that judge, sometimes commands trials, He Himself also provides us with the strength to overcome them. (See 1 Corinthians 10:13)
I wish you all to continue this year’s journey with serenity and peace of mind.