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We Have Our Homework

November 5, 2017

Michael Barone teaches the weekly Confirmation class with me and issued a homework assignment to the students on Wednesday evening. “Homework?” was the thundering groan upon hearing that cursed word. But this is a different kind of homework, he added.

During the week, Mr. Barone instructed the students, go through your closets and with parents’ permission select clothing items that can be used and appreciated by someone who is without and is in need. Bring the clothing, the coat or shoes or gloves or another item to church next week and your gift will be given through the pantry to someone in need.

The students have been studying the 7th Commandment, “You shall not steal,” a commandment with a clear meaning in the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus affirms its cogency adding, a brief summary of the Ten Commandments in these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Confirmation students discussed the many ways we are tempted to steal, wrestling with these several questions.

Is it stealing if you use ten minutes of work time to fill out your football pool? Is it stealing if you come to work late or leave early? Is your boss stealing when he/she gives you an assignment to complete after you have “clocked out” of work? Did Mayor Gordillo of the town of Marinaleda in the Andalusia region of Spain steal when in 2012 he staged robberies of supermarkets in order to secure food to feed hungry people? Is it stealing to take “reward” money from a lost wallet before turning it over to the police? Is it stealing when you speak ill of someone, staining that person’s reputation and threatening his/her friendships? Is it stealing when you don’t pay an undocumented worker minimum wage, a living wage?

St. Basil the Great (330-379), Greek Bishop of Caesarea in modern day Turkey, preached a sermon in which he said, “Someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes.”

Robert Hurley wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Trust is an issue not because people are evil but because they are often self-centered. We’ve all known a manager whom employees don’t trust because they don’t believe he will fight for them. In other words, he has never demonstrated a greater concern for others’ interests than for his own. The manager who demonstrates benevolent concern—who shows his employees that he will put himself at risk for them—engenders not only trust but also loyalty and commitment.”

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,” Jeremiah said (17:8-9); “They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.”

We are invited to trust in the Lord; with the Lord as our shepherd, “we shall not be in want.” None of us shall be in want (Ps 23). “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne (1572-1631); we can’t flourish in isolation. God gives to us community through which we receive care and through which we give care to one another. Michael Barone’s challenge to the Confirmation students is a challenge issued to each of us, “The bread you hold back belongs to the hungry, the coat which you guard in your locker storage belongs to the naked.”

We have our homework.

-Stephen H. Swanson