When Moses came down from the mountain he had with him the tablets with God’s ten major ordinances – the Ten Commandments. The most important, of course, was that God’s people were to worship Yahweh faithfully and honestly, but down the line a bit there was the one that we now call “VII” – Thou Shalt Not Steal. We all know that stealing is wrong. To intentionally take something that is the private property of another person, is almost in cases a moral evil. I say in almost all because there are certain circumstances which would allow a person to make quick decisions in order to survive; for example, food when faced with hunger. In general, it is always wrong to steal.
But some kinds of theft are worse than others. Walking into a liquor store with a handgun in order to empty the cash register is theft and if you don’t get killed, you certainly can go to jail for a long period of time. You may not understand this but there is a certain honesty in that kind of theft. You have money, I want it and if you don’t give it to me, you are going to get hurt!
However, let me tell you of a worse kind of theft. Put yourself in the executive offices of a fast food place. It doesn’t matter whether it is McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. You see the hourly charts coming in reflecting that Gene Jones or Raul Martinez worked 52 hours at the minimum wage. No one can actually survive on that in an urban setting. Why should those two guys who sweated for so many hours get so much money? We will just say that he worked 40 hours cutting him out of overtime. Stealing from the poor is, in my opinion, the very lowest form of theft!
A few weeks ago the United States Department of Labor announced the results of a survey indicating that the scope of wage theft in this country is stunning. The practice of stealing wages, commonly called “wage theft”, is a national epidemic. It eats away at the livelihood of already underpaid workers. Eighty percent of surveyed fast food workers experienced off the clock violations, meaning that they were required to work without pay before punching in and after punching out. Forty-eight percent who worked more than 40 hours in a week did not receive overtime pay. Wage theft has ramifications beyond the employees who are cheated. We suffer when wage theft becomes a way of doing business. Law abiding businesses can’t compete with wage cheats who shave their operating costs by breaking the law. The less money that wage earners bring home, the less money they have to spend on basics, such as food, clothing and household necessities depriving local businesses of much needed consumer dollars and hampering our economy. When that happens everyone loses.
The Department of Labor has studied and documented that this heinous crimes. Now let’s give them the charge of cleaning this utterly cruel form of theft up as quickly as possible.
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September 22nd, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we hear the voice of the Prophet Amos stretching across nearly 2,500 years touching our ears and reminding us of one of the saddest aspects of the human story. Human beings are weak, many of us have a strong temptation to take short cuts and do not always successfully resist those temptations. One of the most common temptations in all cultures and civilizations has been the temptation of the wealthy to take advantage of the weaker citizens in their society or culture. It was true in Egypt, Greece, Rome and it is true in the United States.
Poor areas of our cities have fewer grocery stores and the commodities for sale within them are more expensive than in the more affluent parts of town. When the poor get in trouble and they need a $50 or $100 loan they pay astronomical fees sometimes becoming much larger than the original loan itself.
Two weeks ago you saw an explosion as the fast food workers of the country challenged the food giants to pay them more than $7.25 an hour. In many parts of the country their effort was very effective and they received substantial raises. That is good but did their employers really think that their employees could live a normal life on our pathetic minimum wage?
In today’s first reading our friend Amos had a lot to say about this and the exploiters of the poor when he says, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob never will I forget a thing that they have done.” Not a thing? Wow! That is very strong. In our dealings with each other we ought to keep that in mind. God will not forget crimes of injustice against the poor. They must be atoned for and the perpetrator must experience sorrow and repentance because, “The Lord has sworn never will I forget a thing that they have done!”
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