I recently heard a businessman speaking about his least favorite scripture passages. First was Jesus’ story about the vineyard owner recruiting workers throughout the course of a day (Matthew 20:1–16 ). He didn’t like the ending, with those hired toward the end of the day getting the same pay as those who worked a full day. The second was about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), whose father showered him with gifts and celebration upon the errant boy’s return from a long period of debauchery while the faithful son got no such recognition. Then there was the time when Jesus was visiting with sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–42), and while Martha was attending to all the hospitality duties, Mary was just sitting there, listening to what Jesus had to say. When Martha complained that Mary wasn’t helping her, Jesus told her Mary was making better use of her time.
None of these people were fairly compensated for their work, according to this businessman’s scale of business management. Judging by that scale, he might not be too happy with the Lord’s taste in management talent, either. This Sunday’s first reading (Acts 9:26-31) is about Saul’s attempt to join the disciples. They were scared to make this hire because they knew about Saul’s background as a persecutor of those following “The Way.” That behavior is described earlier in this account from Acts:
“Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
Of course we know this Saul became better known as Paul—one of Jesus’ most effective hires. Our businessman probably wouldn’t have agreed with it at the time, owing to Saul’s résumé. In fact, judging by experience, Judas probably would have been his star candidate. He evidently was smart with money, which explains why he’s thought to have been the treasurer of Jesus’ little group. And he scored 30 pieces of silver—although he divested himself of it after deciding that what he sold was actually invaluable. He therefore paid the ultimate price for that miscalculation—his soul.
Our businessman probably would have fired Peter for the disloyalty he showed Jesus when denying that he was in his company. But Jesus forgave—not only Peter, but everyone who was instrumental in his passion and death because they didn’t know what they were doing. Unfortunately, Judas did know what he was doing and was destined for termination.
Jesus made his business philosophy clear while he was with his disciples and that code is detailed in both of this Sunday’s readings from John. It is based on two core principles: truth and love. The trouble many businesses have with those core values is they depend on regular communication with the boss.
“God is greater than our hearts and knows everything,” John states in our second reading (1 Jn 3:18-24). “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
By not doing what pleases God, and knowing it, we remove ourselves from his organization, as our gospel reading from John states (Jn 15:1-8):
“Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither,” Jesus teaches. But… “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
This generous business model has been successful for more than 2000 years. My businessman friend might believe this policy is weighted too much on the side of the unworthy, but by our boss’s standards, we’re all unworthy. Fortunately the only way we can go bankrupt is morally.