Earlier this week, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few needful things. Because my version of “a few” that day was precisely “three”, I found the nearest express desk and queued up. While I wasn’t particularly pressed for time, I did find myself losing a measure of patience as I counted the items being placed on the conveyor belt by the customer in front of me. When the number passed 8 – the maximum number of items permissible at this particular checkout – I started to get kind of incensed.
Now, you might be expecting me to say how awful it was that I was impatient. You may be expecting me to offer some brief lesson on the value of using our time in store line-ups to pray for those around us. To tell you the truth, I offered that lesson several months ago, so I won’t give it to you again.
This might surprise you, but while I may not have had the right to be angry – and I showed no sign of anger at the clerk or the customers around me – I did have the right to be irritated when THIRTEEN items were removed from the basket of the customer ahead of me at the checkout. Why?
The customer in front of me had a good command of the English language. She gave the impression, by use of her credit card, of an ability to read and write. This means, essentially, that she had no excuse for buying 13 items via a checkout that is reserved for customers purchasing up to 8 items. No excuse!
Calm down, Jeff, I can hear you thinking. It was just a few grocery items. It cost you, what, an extra minute? And you’re right: it was just a few grocery items, and it did cost me mere seconds on a day when time was not of the essence.
So what’s the point? The point is that if people regard such helpful guidelines as express checkout limits as “optional”, what prevents them from viewing such helpful guidelines as stop signs, red lights, and murder laws as “optional”?
Some folks think that it’s a big stretch between checkout limits at the grocery store and the traffic lights at Yonge and Bloor. But is it, really?
True, disobeying a checkout limit merely draws grumbles from fellow customers at best, or, at worst, the insistence of a strongly-backboned store clerk that the offender move to a different queue. Disobeying traffic laws can result in fines and demerit points, if not death or dismemberment. There’s a big difference between the consequences of these kinds of offences. And the grocery store guideline doesn’t have the backing of a law enacted by Parliament.
Still, if we choose not to respect others by disobeying the express line limit, what prevents us from not respecting others by refusing to cede them the right-of-way while walking through a crosswalk?
Penalties and consequences encourage us to obey laws, which help us to respect the needs and rights of others. Yet we live in such a self-centred, individualistic society today, we practically require penalties and consequences to keep people from failing to respect others. Whatever happened to good, old, common respect?
Perhaps, with our society’s loss of biblical memory, it has lost that commonest of biblical references with it: the Golden Rule. With an eye to the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12, NLT).
How do you suppose the customer ahead of me at the groceteria would have reacted had I been purchasing 13 items? How would the impatient driver react were someone honking the horn at him as he walked across the street? You get the idea. It’s not just about guidelines or laws. It’s about respect. It’s about seeing others as part of God’s special creation.
And this isn’t really a religious issue: more than twenty religious traditions have some variant of the Golden Rule in their sacred writings or traditions. It’s a human issue, a spiritual issue. Everyone who holds us up, or cuts in front of us; everyone whom we hold up or cut in front of – each is a child of God.
So next time the customer ahead of me buys more than the posted limit, I’m going to view that person as a child of God, in need of his embrace. And if each of us does that, the world will be a better place – and the Kingdom will be hastened.