Honesty for the Poor
Throughout high school and college, my friends and I often repeated movie quotes to each other. As I read through today’s readings I was reminded of one of our more frequently quoted movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl. In this movie, right before the final fight scene, Captain Barbossa thinks he has figured out Captain Jack Sparrow’s tricks, and tells him as much. Captain Jack, on the other hand, gives Captain Barbossa a few words to think about before jumping into battle. He states, “Me, I’m dishonest. And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for. Because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly….stupid.”
While the next moment in the movie shows the characters locked in a swash-buckling battle, Jack’s words ring true describing the dishonest merchants as told by Amos in today’s first reading. The dishonest merchants make their earnings by swindling the needy and taking advantage of the poor in society. Those affected by the dishonest merchants are hurt many times over, first by the circumstances that led to their poverty and then again by people who are in a position to help. These are the dishonest people about whom Captain Jack Sparrow cautions Captain Barbossa. The dishonest merchants see nothing wrong with their actions - in fact, the dishonest men find delight and joy in maintaining the status quo and hurting the poor in order to better their own lives. Amos reminds us that God will remember their dishonest actions and pride, though He cannot rectify the situation for the poor in that moment.
Jack Sparrow says that we have to watch out for the honest man. It is important to remember that we are the honest men and women of Christ. Fortified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be honest in our business dealings. We are called to bring about justice for the poor. We are given the gift of integrity, of being able to spot the dishonest actions and put a stop to the dishonest merchants in our own lives.
Jesus tells the disciples a parable in today’s Gospel from St. Luke, chapter 16. The meaning of the parable is hidden in metaphor at the beginning, as a master dismisses his steward for dishonesty. Jesus then gives us the message clearly: The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones, and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. Jesus reminds us in this statement that all of our actions affect others, and He calls on us to be honest. After all, a few lines later we are reminded that we cannot have two masters. Money cannot guide our life - the risk for dishonesty in small or great matters is too great. Instead, we are called to serve God, who gives us life and calls on us to speak the honest truth throughout our life.
We may feel stupid when our actions go against what society tells us. Jack Sparrow cautions that the honest man is unpredictable, acting irrationally even, in the eyes of peers. But what if we look at our honest actions through the eyes of God? When speaking up in the name of honesty, taking care of the poor, we go against the actions of the dishonest people in our society. The dishonest people want to be the loudest voice to the poor in wealth or spirit, promising get rich quick schemes or a way out of the poverty they are in. As Christians, however, our spiritual call is to be the honest one. To speak up in the face of injustice, to confront the dishonest merchants and those oppressing the lowly. God will see our actions, giving us the strength and fortitude to make the change necessary to lift up the poor. All of us are called to be honest and serve God through our actions. Once we have achieved those goals, we will get to live the life described by St. Paul in the second reading to Timothy: a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.
Caroline Head is an educator and writer with degrees from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Originally from Chicago, Caroline and her husband live in Wisconsin.