December 28, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Deuteronomy 24:14-15 (NRSV)
You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt.
In the beginning of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge was an unkind boss, one who fails to treat his employee, Bob Cratchit, justly. But, after he was transformed, Scrooge became an altogether different sort of boss, offering both justice and kindness to Bob. Scrooge illustrates the biblical principle of treating employees fairly. We can keep Christmas well by seeking justice for those with whom we work.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Keeping Christmas Well.
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In the opening stave (chapter) of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is seen to be an unkind if not unjust boss. On a “cold, bleak, biting” Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivered in the cold of his “tank,” having only one small coal to warm himself because Scrooge was guarding the coal box. In fact, Scrooge had threatened to fire Bob when he came seeking more coal. In Stave III of the Carol, we learn, not surprisingly, that Scrooge paid his clerk poorly, only fifteen “Bob” (shillings) a week, barely enough for the Cratchit family to survive. Thus, in a Christmas conversation Bob’s wife referred to Scrooge as “an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man.”
If Scrooge had been guided by Scripture in his relationship with his clerk, he would not have paid Bob so meagerly. Many passages in the Bible call employers to do justice in relationship to their workers. Deuteronomy 24:14-15, for example, exhorts employers to pay all of their workers on time, since they depend on what they make each day to live. In Isaiah 58, when the Israelites wondered why the Lord did not respond to their fasting, he said, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers” (58:3).
Throughout Scripture, God calls us to do justice, with particular attention to those who cannot ensure justice on their own because they lack the power to do so. The workplace is a significant context for justice-seeking. God expects those of us who have been given authority at work to treat our employees justly. This includes paying them fairly and in a timely fashion. (In our culture, just compensation for full-time workers would usually involve benefits such as vacation days and health insurance.)
Because Christ was born not only to save souls but also to establish God’s kingdom, we will keep Christmas well when we seek justice in our places of work. We will not be like Ebenezer Scrooge in the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Rather, we will be like Scrooge in the final stave. There, in one of the happiest scenes of the novella, Scrooge caught Bob Cratchit arriving late for work on the day after Christmas (perhaps because Bob’s celebration had been unusually joyful owing to the giant turkey Scrooge, unbeknownst to Bob, had sent to the Cratchit household). Scrooge pretended to be angry with Bob, saying, “Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend, . . . I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” Scrooge continued, leaping from his stool, and poking Bob in his vest so vigorously that Bob staggered back into his cubicle, “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”
Bob was so shocked by this that he thought for a moment of clobbering Scrooge with a ruler and calling the city officials to haul Scrooge off in a straight-jacket as a crazy man. But before Bob could act on this thought, Scrooge explained his intention to pay Bob more fairly and extend additional care to his family. For Ebenezer Scrooge, keeping Christmas well was not simply a matter of special generosity at Christmastime. It was something to be lived each day in workplace relationships.
No matter your particular role in your work setting, may you keep Christmas well by treating your colleagues in general, and your subordinates in particular, with justice and kindness.
Some of us have been given considerable authority over the state of affairs in our workplaces. We have the power to see that employees are treated justly. Others of us have not been given such authority. But almost all of us have an opportunity to treat our colleagues at work justly. What can you do to keep Christmas well by seeking justice for those with whom you work?
No matter your role in your in the workplace, think about how you can be an agent of God’s justice. You might be able to help a colleague with a tough assignment. Or perhaps you can support a co-worker who is sometimes mistreated by colleagues. Or maybe you’re in a position to give folks a raise. Ask the Lord what you might do and then, by God’s grace, do it.
Gracious God, you are consistent in your call to us to do justice, especially for the powerless and marginalized, those who lack the ability to ensure justice for themselves. Help us to seek your justice in every part of life, Lord. May those of us who have authority over others be sure to treat them justly. Give us the wisdom to know what this means in our specific context. May we keep Christmas well in the everyday affairs of our work. To be you all the glory! Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Economic Justice (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; 25:19; 27:17-25)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the Executive Director of Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he is the principal writer of Life for Leaders and the program lead of the Third Third Initiative. Previously, Mark was the senior pastor of a church in Southern California and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. Mark has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,000 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark has taught at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Click here to view Mark’s profile.