If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby—if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. Leviticus 6:2-6
Some industrialists of the late 19th century are disparagingly referred to as Robber Barons, so-called because of their unscrupulous business practices. Stories abound of business leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John David Rockefeller taking advantage of their workers and customers and even threatening violence on their competitors.
Despite their unsavory business tactics, these Robber Barons were often major philanthropists. Carnegie founded Carnegie Mellon University and supported hundreds of public libraries. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago and contributed to important advances in education and medicine. Rockefeller was also reportedly deeply religious, read the Bible daily and led his own Bible study.
Our 19th century predecessors didn’t consider those two sides of their activity contradictory at all. They were quite content to live disintegrated lives – one way at work and another outside it. It’s not really an old-fashioned idea. When was the last time you heard (or said) about an ethically questionable strategy, “That’s just business”.
But our text for today indicates that whole approach to business, and to life, is counter-Biblical. Before the business malfeasant can even ask the Lord for forgiveness, he or she has to make full restitution (with a 20% penalty besides). Each of us is only one person, whether Monday or Sunday. Each of us is responsible to God and our neighbor, both on Monday and Sunday. Let’s learn from our economic ancestors, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s walk in consistency, loving our neighbor seven days a week.