Two hundred thousand dollars. This was the amount of money staring at a Richmond police officer after he arrested a drug dealer. What would you do if there was enough money right in front of you to change your way of life? Would you take it knowing that the only other person in the world who knows about this money has much bigger issues going on? Or, perhaps you’ll just take a portion of it and buy yourself a new car. Twenty thousand dollars is just a tiny fraction of the money sitting here, after all. Or, do you not take even one dollar from that bag, but just zip it up, put it in your trunk, drive to the station, and put it in evidence? This dilemma actually happened, to a sergeant of the organized crime division named Sam Richardson, who is my grandfather, and also a graduate of this school.
When talking this event over with my grandfather, I asked him why he didn’t take the money that day, and he answered me with another question: “Are you going to sell your soul for paper? Because that’s what I would have done.”
He told me, “Truthfulness and integrity are the biggest things we have. Your reputation is extremely valuable, once you tarnish that reputation, nobody will forget it.” At this school, we often hear the phrase “take the hard right over the easy wrong”. This phrase reminds me of another, similar quote. “Do the right thing when nobody’s watching.”
We often hear of people not doing the right thing in these cases. It is easy to peek over at someone’s test to see what answer they have or to tell a little white lie. Students get caught up in making the best grades they can, even if it means sacrificing their integrity. Athletes inject steroids to get an edge. The list goes on.
But in the end, our friends and loved ones will not think about the money we have made or the material goods we had, but the character we have possessed. Our character is defined by the cumulative choices we have made.
But what about when we have not been perfect, when we, or someone we care about, has not made the best choices. Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus. We meet Zacchaeus as Jesus enters Jericho.
Zacchaeus is a tax collector. Zacchaeus is like my grandfather in that he worked for the state. But, unlike my grandfather, Zacchaeus skimmed money off the top. All Roman tax collectors did this. That is why Zacchaeus was rich, but not respected. No one wanted to be around Zacchaeus, except one person.
Despite his poor character or possibly because of it, Jesus invites himself to dinner in Zacchaeus’ home. And over dinner, Jesus invites Zacchaeus to a different life. A life of integrity and character. Zacchaeus doesn’t let the chance pass.
That’s where some of us are currently. At a point where we can make different choices and turn ourselves around.
My grandfather is retired now, and the money from the drug dealer’s bag would be long gone. The only thing that would remain from that day is his compromised integrity.
Zacchaeus is an inspirational story for all of us, especially those who regret our past decisions. While we can’t go back and change our past choices, Zacchaeus shows us it is never too late to change our path.
Being a St. Christopher’s man is not about being perfect, or even appearing perfect. It’s about looking to do the right thing when nobody’s watching and putting a value on character above all else. And when and if we fall short of doing the right thing we try again. Material goods and status come and go, but our character does not.
I’m thankful to be in a place that teaches this and among peers who share these values. I am also thankful to be loved by a God who helps me when otherwise I would have lost my way.
All of us are constantly challenged by the temptation of breaking our moral code. My hope is that we will always do what is right, but we also know humans make mistakes. However, we can always strive to make the right choice. Amen.