September 22, 2013
White Collar Crimes
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, September 22, 2013
One of my favorite TV shows is the seasonal series on USA Network called White Collar. The series is about Neil Caffrey, a recovering art and antique thief who had eluded the FBI for many years until he is finally caught by Peter Berg, a respected FBI agent. In a turn of events, Neil Caffrey is released to Peter (wearing an ankle bracelet) because of his great knowledge of white collar crimes to help in catching other white collar criminals. The series is about the relationship between Neil and Peter and the use of the skill of each one to in the capture of white collar thieves.
I thought of this TV show in light of the readings for this Sunday. White collar crimes refer to those crimes that are committed, usually by professionals within their profession. White collar criminals use their professional situations and skills to steal from their employers or unsuspecting persons. This includes; computer and internet fraud, credit card fraud, phone and telemarketing fraud, bankruptcy fraud, healthcare fraud, environmental law violations, insurance fraud, mail fraud, government fraud, tax evasion, insider trading, bribery, kickbacks, counterfeiting, public corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement. (Cornell University School of Law). To this list we could add, more applicable to each of us here; failure to report income, failure to pay taxes, cheating on exams, breaking traffic laws, infringement of copyright laws.
White collar crimes like white lies are similar. We might call them “white” to make them seem less serious or to dismiss that they are serious, but at the end of the day, they are still crimes and lies.
The Scriptures today refer to several white collar crimes, particularly in the Book of Amos (8:4-7) and in the Gospel (Lk: 16:1-13). In a welcome response, St. Paul in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 2: 1-8) reminds of how to live not as white collar criminals, but in justice, integrity and in prayer.
The prophet Amos is speaks to the white collar crime of the day; religious people using unjust practices for their own profit. Using incorrect scales, adding chaff to wheat, and charging unjust prices to the poor.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes note of another white collar crime. That is, a steward (someone put in charge of the estate and business of another person) who uses his position for his own profit. When the steward is about to be fired, he reduces the debts owed to the master so that when he is unemployed, those who’s debts he reduced will be merciful to him. Another white collar crime; using unjust practices and the use of someone else’s property for personal gain.
In fact, Jesus is not approving of the white collar crime, but he is making the point that we would truly progress if we would use as much of our “professional skills” or “street smarts” for our building up our faith, growing in relationship with God, and securing a place for ourselves in heaven.
This Gospel should remind us about another parable of a steward in the Gospel of St. Matthew (chapter 25: 14-30, The Parable of the Talents). The parable where a man going on a journey entrusts some of his servants with different quantities of money, making them stewards of his property. The man expects that the stewards multiply the quantities, chastising when he returns the steward who instead hides the money instead of taking a risk and multiplying the money. From these two parables we learn that we too are stewards entrusted with an abundance of gifts from God; our faith, the power to do good for others, to be good examples to others. Are we good stewards, and at the very least using our “street smarts” to grow what God has given to us?
Neil Caffrey is eventually given the opportunity to use his “skills” as a thief to do good. In doing so he helps to catch other criminals and he builds a relationship with Peter Berg. I believe that this is what Jesus teaches us; that we can use our “street smarts” and skills that we use to maneuver through our daily lives for good and to build our relationships with God He invites us to think of the accomplishments of the cunning steward in the Gospel, and how much we can accomplish if we use our “street smarts” and “skill” for the pursuit of good things, for union with God, and to help others.
Jesus concludes the parable; “You cannot serve both God and mammon”.
Mammon is what we accumulate through unjust practice. Mammon is the fruit of while collar crimes. Yes, we too are very capable of white collar crimes; cheating on our time sheets, wasting time and work, failing to report income, “taking” things that do not belong to us, downloading programs and music that we have not paid for, etc.
We must choose, Jesus says in the Gospel, between loyalty to God or the things of the this world. This means making real efforts to grow in loyalty to God by being honest in all of our business. As people of faith, giving witness to the truth and integrity of God at work, at home, in society, and in the midst of the Church.
There is hope for Neil Caffrey if he remains loyal to Peter and to the FBI.
There is great hope for us if we remain loyal to God and renounce mammon.