“It was a $19 baseball glove.”
Such was the unusual response at a gathering of convenience store managers. The national offices wanted to attract good people for managerial positions but were having a difficult time in finding qualified persons who wanted this type of position. So they gathered some of the best managers in their branches across the country and asked them why they took the position and remained with the company. Puzzled by the response, the moderator asked the manager to tell her story.
“It happened in my early days when I had been working as a cashier for only a few weeks. I was a single mother struggling to pay the bills and provide for my son. I was grateful for the job and did my best to work the counter and help customers. One day my son had called and asked for a new baseball glove. I tried to explain that we could not afford it right now because we had to pay the bills for rent, utilities and food. Hanging up I continued to work but was saddened by my 10-year-old’s disappointment.
“The next day after my shift was done I was getting my things together to go home. The manager called me into the office. I started thinking, ‘Oh no, am I going to lose my job?’ I had been let go before from other positions because of staff reductions and was inclined to be nervous about these things. When I got to the office the manager asked me to sit down. ‘This is it,’ I thought. The manager started: ‘I hope you don’t mind my doing this, but I overheard you speaking to your son yesterday.’ She then pulled out a bag from under her desk. It contained a nineteen dollar baseball glove. ‘Kids have a hard time understanding financial obligations, I hope you don’t mind me getting this for you.’
“Now 15 years latter I am still with the company. It all goes back to that one act of compassion for me by my first manager.”
The story might not seem that dramatic — it was only a $19 baseball glove. But that one act of compassion went a long way for the convenience store cashier and her 10-year-old son.
Jesus, in the Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy, gives us the story of the Good Samaritan. He tells the story to illustrate an act of compassion, an act of mercy. The context for this story is important for our journey of faith and our lives of Christian discipleship.
A “scholar of the law” was trying to “test” Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, in turn asks him: “What is written in the law?” The scholar replies by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy. The reference gets to the foundation and core of the Mosaic covenant — love God and love neighbor. Jesus then says: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
St. Luke then tells us that the scholar, because he wished to justify himself, asked another question: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replies with the story of the Good Samaritan.
As the story progresses the hearer, being a scholar of the law, was probably not surprised that the priest and Levite passed by without helping the victim. A rigid reading of the purity laws would have prevented them from touching the bloodied victim. The surprise comes when Jesus mentions that a Samaritan stops not only to help but to care for the victim.
You may recall that the Jews and Samaritans while worshiping the same God were at odds with each other. It is at this point that Jesus asks the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The scholar replies, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus then says: “Go and do likewise.”
It turns out that the Samaritan knew the law better than the priest and the Levite for he knew that love of God and love of neighbor are intimately connected and foundational to the whole of covenantal law.
The first reading also speaks of the law; this passage too is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy. In the text Moses addresses the people about the law saying: “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?” Moses continues, “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
Both Moses and Jesus speak to living the law in our lives. It is not something distant but very close and real. The law of love, which is the basis for the entire covenant, is very much at hand. Living the love of neighbor helps us to live the love of God.
While the urgency of the Good Samaritan might not be as real in everyday life — unless, that is, you live in a heavily populated or crime-infested area — the call to love remains the same. We encounter people in need of mercy and compassion every day.
The story of the manager in the convenience store shows compassion for a worker in need. Her life was better because of compassion. A $19 baseball glove might not seem like a lot, but sometimes the smallest acts of mercy have the biggest impact.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.