Judge Frank Caprio is a Municipal Court Judge in Rhode Island who has become a viral video star for his unique type of judgments. For a while now, I have enjoyed watching some episodes of his court trials. The unique aspect of his hearings, to me, is the attention he pays to the individual stories of the people brought before him. In the end when he gives his judgement, they are often more influenced by the stories he heard than the facts of the case. In one case he fined a woman $50 only to find out it will leave the woman with only $5 in her pocket. He changed his judgment and dismissed the case. In an interview with the Associated Press, Judge Caprio said he thinks he should take into consideration the uniqueness of their stories. Did they just lose someone? Is someone sick and in the hospital? Do they have kids that are starving? And so on, which are all part of real-life situations. Asked what he thinks about his judgements going viral, he said it was because people are accustomed to the institutions of government coming hard on them without regards to any personal situations. This is to say, even when people have done something against the law, their stories still matter in the way judgments are given against them. This is another way of saying we must temper justice with mercy. Everyone has a story to tell. The stories we tell help to bring into focus where we are coming from and where we are in our journey of life. It is important for us to tell these stories and it is important for us to listen to other people’s stories.
God has called us to love other people the same way we love ourselves. If loving myself requires that I know myself and understand myself, then it goes to say that I must also know my story. If I do not know my story, then I cannot say that I fully know or understand myself. In a similar manner, it is important to know the one we seek to love. That love journey begins by knowing the story of the object of our love. God has called us to show love to others, particularly the downtrodden, the poor, and the oppressed. It requires that we know their stories. It does not matter how bad we think someone may have been, God does not intend for us to disregard them and their stories. We must listen to their stories so that we can see the opportunities God is bringing to our attention. While these stories are important in helping us to see the work of God in others, interestingly it also helps us to see how connected we are. If we do not recognize how our stories are connected, we will be discounting the God that is in each of us. To attempt to live solely unto ourselves conflicts with God’s design for us to be in relationship with our fellow human beings. God created us to be together and wants us to maintain our connections with one another. Through our stories, our humanity is bound together with God.
Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus Christ told to His disciples in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man lived in luxury, wearing fine linen while obviously looking at the beggar with such disdain even as the beggar longed to eat whatever fell from the rich man’s table. It is safe to say that the rich man did not care about Lazarus’ story and obviously did not realize the interconnectedness of their unfolding stories. With all the wealth and power and opportunity he had to do some good, he chose to focus solely on himself and his life of luxury. As the story goes, they both died and the rich man found himself in hell, only to look up and realize that Lazarus was by Abraham’s side on other side. Still looking at Lazarus with disdain, he asked Abraham to ask Lazarus to dip his hand in water and touch his tongue. When that was turned down, he wanted Lazarus to go to his family to warn them. He was reminded of how good it was for him and how bad it was for Lazarus in their lifetime. They had interconnecting stories, but the rich man did not recognize it. This became an albatross for him. His problem was not about his riches but that he refused to see and help someone who was hurting and who God placed in his path. He refused to hear Lazarus’ story and as such could not be a blessing to him.
Brothers and sisters, we ignore our interconnectedness to our own peril. God has a purpose for each of us and everyone He brings across our ways are meant to be part of our stories and part of His plans for us. Judge Caprio recognizes this, and it influences his judgments. When we ignore our connectedness and view someone else as inferior, as the rich man did, we are invariably ignoring God, the author of those connections. When we fail to realize our need for our interconnections, we become more selfish and resentful. When we refuse to help others who are hurting, or even just find out their stories, we change the trajectory of our own stories for the worse. People of God, it is crucial to our well-being that we become aware of the connectedness of our stories and how important it is for loving our neighbors like ourselves.
February 7, 2021 – Pastor Simbo Odunaiya