Let’s start with the first reading in which the Prophet Amos heaped scorn on rich shopkeepers who hated holy days when they were not allowed to open their shops to bring in money. Amos pictured them on such days as occupying themselves in making plans for squeezing more money out of customers. They would make false-bottomed quart scoops that were a half pint short. They would use false weights to cheat their customers of ounces every time.
Let me go back to my Korea years for an incident involving shopkeepers who cheated their customers. Once, coming back to my coastal parish on a Saturday afternoon the bus broke down twenty miles short of my church. I was looking around for an army truck that might be going down my way, when a man came up, introducing himself as a shop owner from my town. He suggested that we split the cost of the cab.
He said he knew me because I was the only foreigner in his town; and he said I wouldn’t know him, because none of the people running shops ever came to church.
“Why is that,” I asked; and the man said, “We don’t go to church because we cheat all our customers. If we didn’t lie, we’d lose them to shops where they do lie.”
He insisted that religion and morality meant a lot to him, and he was a follower of Confucius and a Buddhist. He explained that while Confucius laid down beautiful rules for upright behavior with parents, siblings, teachers, relatives; he had not bound his followers to be honest in dealing with strangers. Confucius let him lie to outsiders.
He went on to talk about being a Buddhist. He said he made up for cheating people by taking six months off every five years. He would shave his head, and like a monk, he’d dress in a gray robe, and go about begging for food. (He told me that right then his mother, after five years of dirty dealings, had shaved her head, and was serving her six months as a Buddhist nun)
I told him that we would improve our world if we refrained from cheating people. I told him how Christ told us we should become like yeast. By mixing our honesty with the dry flour of the business world, we could serve to making the whole mass rise.