LAW, fulfilled in Christ
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression
and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a
carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the
police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on
the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia
dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought
before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her
daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop
the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people
around here a lesson." LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no
exceptions--ten dollars or ten days in jail."
But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous
sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom
fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr.
Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant." So the following day the
New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her
starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some
seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had
just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2.