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pay phone

An odd story came out of Spain this week. Or perhaps “odd” in the literal sense is the wrong word, for the story has an ironic symmetry.

A 64-year-old man in the city of Jaén reported a home burglary. The victim, who happened to coach a youth soccer team, listed several electronic appliances as stolen. Days later, police received an anonymous call from a payphone. It was the burglar, informing them that he had left three videotapes in a brown envelope under a parked car.

The tapes, made on a Super 8 camera that had not been reported among the stolen goods, were evidence that this soccer coach had been abusing young boys. Along with the address of the home he had burgled, the thief included a note that said, “I’ve had the misfortune that these tapes have fallen into my hands and I feel obligated to turn them in so that you can do your job and put that (expletive) in prison for life.”

Nine days after the burglary, the police arrested the soccer coach in his home.

Most who read this story will celebrate the fact that a child pornographer will be brought to justice and will no longer be able to abuse and exploit the children who trusted him, and I join them. But in the midst of my Schadenfreude , I’ve been thinking about these two criminals, each making their reports to the police, each with a sense of offended justice even as they concealed their own crimes. I recognize myself in them.

Sin deadens our conscience; the more we give in to temptation, the easier it becomes. Yet, remarkably, sin doesn’t numb our awareness of the wrongs of others. If anything, it heightens it as we seek to justify ourselves by comparing our own crimes to those who do the really bad stuff. Having a log in your eye actually improves your ability to see specks in others’ eyes. Jesus still considered it a visual impairment.

There is a well-worn adage that evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread. So often, I live out my Christian faith more like a criminal telling the cops where to find the crooks. This should not be. When I find myself picking up the phone to report that others have fallen short, may I instead speak the words of another thief: When you come into your kingdom, remember me.

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