“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
One of my favorite holiday traditions is to watch Scrooge, the film adaptation of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, starring Alistair Sims. Who would have thought a ghost story would be a successful holiday hit? For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Ebeneezer Scrooge is a miserly old man who treats his employees badly and has no compassion for the poor who are struggling to make ends meet and repay debts. There were no government safety nets, no help or hope, and many people suffered from preventable illnesses and starvation, or were thrown out onto the streets as beggars. Scrooge not only has no compassion on these unfortunate people, he tells people that he has actually invested money in the miserable workhouses that many debtors found themselves in.
Later that night, when Scrooge is alone in his house, he is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, who has been dead for many years. He’s come back to warn Scrooge to change his ways or suffer a fate like his. Jacob is cursed to roam the earth, dragging along a literal linked-chain weighed down by iron boxes and banks, wishing he could intercede on behalf of the unfortunate, and unable to do anything or have any effect. And this chain was forged by Jacob’s life spent focused on his own interests and his own material desires. And that’s when Scrooge, disturbed by this after-life punishment, says the above statement about Jacob simply being a good man of business.
But what should have been the true business for this late businessman? Jacob says "mankind was [his] business."
In my sermon this past weekend, I talked about the reality of the “already and the not yet,” the fact that we live in a world that has been completely changed because of Jesus’ birth yet still wrestles with the ramifications of sin and death. And so we see brokenness and sadness all around us, despite the hope and life that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection brought into the world.
But as people of Advent who look forward to the day when Jesus will make all things new, we live in this “already and not yet.” But we want to be people who bring more of the already into the world. Jacob Marley (during his lifetime) was a man of the “not yet.” He didn’t care about the suffering people of the world. His money was his only business, when other people should have been. He didn't care that people were suffering in the "not yet"; all he was concerned about was getting what he wanted.
I'd like to think that I'm not a selfish and self-centered miser. And yet, how much of my time is spent on my business? Sure, I’m not a rich miser in the 19th century, certainly, but I would say a very large portion of my day-to-day is spent on my own business, my own wants and needs, my own thoughts focused on myself.
If humankind is my business, what can I do differently? How could I live differently? If I want to see the “already” now, how might I start treating others? What might my thought life look like? How might my prayers change?
As people who live in the already and the not yet, let’s make humankind our business.