Our readings today deal with good and bad ways of conducting business.
The Gospel has Jesus dining with Matthew and his cronies. It was Our Lord’s way of showing approval of the life of good people in business. Matthew’s line of work, collecting taxes, is not seen as a noble profession; still it is a vital cog in the complex machinery of our civilization. It is not blue ribbon stuff like defending one’s nation in battle, or nursing the elderly, or teaching slow children. Still, we couldn’t do without it, and Jesus acknowledged our debt to businessmen by rubbing elbows and sharing cups with them.
There was one of Our Lord’s mini parables that was a perfect fit for businessmen. It was the one where he said the kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman mixed with three measures of flour until the whole mass began to rise. The three measures of flour stand for our general population, while the yeast is businessmen men who set an example of honest dealing showing the world that honesty pays.
In the first reading the prophet Amos paints a picture of greedy merchants who are bothered by the Blue Laws that force them to close shop on holy days. Impatience with their silent cash registers leads them to devise schemes for cheating customers. They will mix sawdust with the grain they sell. They will doctor their scales and their measuring baskets.
Let me tell one of my old Korea stories. Three times a year in my dozen years as pastor in the town of Yang Yang I took all-day bus rides into the capitol and back. On the way back one evening we had twenty more miles to go when the driver said the bus could go no further. At a loss as to how I could get home, I was pleased when a stranger proposed our splitting the price of hiring a cab for those twenty miles.
I didn’t recognize the man, but he said he had seen me pass his shop a hundred times. He explained to me that shopkeepers like him never went to church because they had to cheat people to make a living. The way he squared things with God was to take a year off every seven years, and in that year he would shave his head, and beg for meals as a Buddhist monk. I told him about being the yeast that would lift society, but he said it wouldn‘t work.