If you have ever flown into New York City, you most likely landed at La Guardia airport. What you may not know is that this airport is named after Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who served the people of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and throughout all of WWII.
La Guardia was a small man in stature standing just 5’4.” The mayor was called the Little Flower because he always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was an interesting man who would take an entire orphanage to a baseball game; ride on a fire truck to the scene of a fire; and, he would accompany the police when they raided the speakeasies.
On the night of January 1935, La Guardia went to a court that served the poorest ward of the city. In a typical expression of his sometimes eccentric behavior, the mayor had dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Shortly after the night court session had begun, an elderly woman stood before him. She had been charged with the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. In an explanation of her actions, she told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her; her daughter was sick; and, her two grandchildren were starving.
The man from whom she had stolen the bread was also present, but he, refused to drop the charges, saying: It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor. She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.
LaGuardia looked at the woman, sighed, and said: I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail. The mayor then reached into his pocket and said: 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 her grandchildren can eat.
When the elderly woman left the courtroom, she had $47.50 inn her pocket.
The actions of La Guardia, are a wonderful explanation of James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
Instead of just seeing the guilt of the woman, La Guardia saw her need. He used his power not to condemn, but to minister grace.