26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Walter Jasper had a problem.
He and other co-workers at the Shur-Brite Car Wash in Nashville
were the victims of a robbery.
Their problem was that
their robber wasn’t some guy in in a mask
but rather their boss.
Walter and his fellow employees
were expected to show up at the car wash
every day at 8 AM and not leave until 8 PM.
However, they weren’t “clocked in” for work
until the first car arrived to be washed.
Once that car left the car wash,
they were “clocked out” until the next car came.
And so it went:
Clock in…clock out…
clock in…clock out…
clock in…clock out….
As a result, while Walter and his friends
were expected to be at work for 12 hours a day,
they were often only paid for six or seven of those hours.
They were victims of wage theft,
a variety of employer practices
from mandatory “working off the clock” to misclassifications
that cost American workers tens of billions of dollars a year.
With the help of some nonprofits
that support the rights of workers and people who are homeless,
Walter and his coworkers at the car wash didn’t just get mad;
they got organized.
They demonstrated, sought community support,
and eventually filed a lawsuit.
They reached a settlement with the owner of Shur Brite
and received $130,000 in unpaid wages.
Their employer also provided them with a break room
and more employee recognition.
Most importantly, they felt something money couldn’t buy:
the respect that comes from receiving
a full day’s pay for a full day’s work.
In today’s second reading,
St. James has some harsh words for the members of the church
whose power, wealth and conspicuous consumption
have been built on the backs and the suffering of others.
Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and the prophets of Israel,
he warns them that God will not forget their injustices;
but like those prophets,
his ultimate goal is their conversion and not their condemnation.
Jesus likewise uses the graphic language
of millstones, amputated limbs, plucked-out eyes
and the fires of Gehenna
(a smoldering garbage dump outside Jerusalem that had once been
a place where children were offered in sacrifice to foreign gods)
to warn his disciples
against leading into sin “these little ones,” i.e. the anawim
—not only children but also a host of poor, marginalized or
falling into sin themselves,
or tolerating others
whose sin may put the health of the community at risk.
Those same disciples would one day be called to be
the first leaders of the church.
As history and current events remind us,
those warnings of Jesus have never lost their relevance.
Leaders, regardless of position or reputation, never cease to be human.
We are all prone to sin,
and none of us has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit or the gifts of God.
Now, as much as ever,
we in the Church need to be open to the movements of the Spirit
and to recognize the gifts of those who, like Eldad and Medad,
are “outside the camp,”
and those, who, like the unnamed exorcists in our gospel reading,
are not of our company.
They may be doing the work of God. +