“I’ve caught you, you young thief!”
George whirled around to see his father, tall and thin, glaring at him in the doorway. He looked like an exclamation point of anger.
“Only nine years old, and you think you can steal money right off my desk!” Herr Mueller shouted. He shook his fist, and his face grew red. “Well, I’ve set a trap for you this time. I know you have that money. Where is it?”
George stood still, as thin and stiff as his father. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and said nothing.
“Where is it, I say?” Herr Mueller grabbed George’s shirt, and his long, thin nose almost touched his son’s. “Never mind. I’ll find it,” he growled. He began to search through George’s pockets. When he found that those were empty, he cried, “Take off your shoes!”
Slowly George took off one shoe. Then, even more slowly, he took off the other.
“There it is!” Herr Mueller cried triumphantly. He pulled out a rod from behind the desk and grabbed George’s skinny arm. “Don’t you ever . . .”
he yelled . . . whack! “don’t you ever . . .” whack! “let me catch you . . .” whack! “stealing from me . . .”
Finally he threw George from him and wiped his forehead. “Now get out of my sight!” he yelled. Then he turned and marched from the room.
George picked himself up off the floor and rubbed his bruised skin. He glared after his father with tears of anger in his eyes. “You set a trap for me,” he whispered. “And you caught me this time. I just have to learn to be more clever. I promise, Father. I promise that I will never again let you catch me stealing from you.”
Almost two years went by, and it was 1816. George was nearly eleven, and his stealing had become very clever indeed. His father hardly ever noticed when money was missing.
“George,” Herr Mueller said one day, “I want you to study to become a minister. Ministers make a very good living. You will never have to worry about being poor. You’ll live comfortably without having to do much work.”
That seemed like a very pleasant kind of life to George. He brushed his hair out of his eyes so he could concentrate better on what his father was saying.
“It’s time you went off to a larger school than we have here in our town,” Herr Mueller continued. “I’m sure you’ll do well.”
So George left home while he was still only ten, to live with other boys in a boarding school. Many of them were supposed to be studying to become ministers. But most of them were doing it for the same reason as George.
By the time George was thirteen, he and his friends spent time at the tavern almost every day. There they gambled and drank beer. George had to become more and more clever in his stealing, because gambling and drinking were expensive hobbies.
But George was a good student. He could memorize very quickly. When his teacher asked him his catechism questions, he was ready.
“What is the seventh commandment?” the teacher asked.
“The seventh commandment is ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ” George answered.
“What does that mean?” came the next question.
George had memorized the answer. He focused his bright blue eyes on his teacher and spoke in a clear voice. “It means that we must fear and love God, so that we will not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get it by trickery. Instead we will help him improve and protect his property.” His eyes dropped to the floor, and he fingered the stolen coins in his pocket.
The teacher asked question after question. George had memorized all of them, and all the answers that went with them.
“You have done a fine job, young man,” said the teacher. “You are ready to become a member of the Lutheran church.”
That evening George dressed in a long white robe and carried a candle in a line with the other boys who were being confirmed. They all knelt at the front of the church. The pastor laid his hands on each boy in turn, blessing him.
Then George was handed a small bit of bread and a cup. He took the Lord’s Supper for the first time.
Again George felt the stolen money in his pocket. He thought about other things he had done wrong, and he began to squirm. “I’ll be better,” he decided. “I’ll really change.”
But changing was just too hard. Before long, George again stole a large amount of money. He spent the money gambling and drinking.
“I guess I’ll never change,” he thought. “And maybe I don’t even care.”