How a classic story makes “mankind our business”
It’s February, and most of the Christmas decorations are back in our basements, collecting dust until next December. Advent calendars complete, new year resolutions in full-swing (or totally abandoned), and hopes for spring’s arrival feel steady.
Yet there’s one piece of Christmas I want to keep alive all year. One phrase that keeps occupying my mind.
Lessons from Scrooge
My family attends a production of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol every Christmas season. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, there is a scene where Ebenezer Scrooge finds himself in the haunted presence of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge to warn him of what becomes of those with selfish ambitions and hardened hearts. Seeing the chains of “bad deeds” around Marley’s hands and feet, Scrooge pleads against this heavy sentence, that he was “a good man of business” like himself, and therefore not deserving of these weighty consequences. Marley vehemently interjects:
“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
My jaw dropped. I have seen a dozen showings of A Christmas Carol before, but this line struck me like it was the first time.
Both the play and the holiday season proceeded forward, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. That simple phrase startled me over and over again: “Mankind was my business!”
We can all agree, this message needed to land on the ears of gruff, old Ebenezer Scrooge. But the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t help but think about its necessity in modern day life.
Working for the world or for ourselves?
People ask us all the time, “What business are you in?” Our answers range from education to technology, transportation to agriculture, homemaking to real estate. There’s family business, market business, economic, community, and independent business. There’s no shortage of ways to intertwine with the “business” of the world; we all have strings attached.
These “strings” are part of God’s original design. God created us to work. In Genesis 1:26-28, he gives humans the cultural mandate: to be fruitful and multiply; to care for the array of gifts God has given. This is done by and through our work, by stewarding resources, cultivating space, and honoring him through our relationships. This brings him glory, and falls within his original, sin-free design.
Yet, I think there’s a follow up question to “What business are you in?” I believe we should also ask the question, “Why?”
Going further, we could ask: Why are you in that business? What motivates you to work, to lead, or to engage? Who benefits specifically from your business? What’s your end goal, your bottom line, or your purpose?
People rarely admit they’re working from greed or for fame. Most people begin their careers to accomplish something good, whether for others, the lost, the environment, or for our families. But life happens, responsibilities increase, and passions dull. Even “good” goals like financial security or career advancement tempt us to replace selflessness with idolatry. Somewhere along the way, with heightened senses of fear and fatigue, we may have stopped asking ourselves what our work could do for the world, and instead started asking what it could do for us.
Making mankind our business
When Marley heeds Scrooge his warning, he alludes that it is not Scrooge’s business that is corrupt, but his heart. In the same way, we can acknowledge that our work is not the problem, but perhaps, like Scrooge, we need a supernatural wake-up call.
One of my favorite parts about this story is how Scrooge responds after his experience. After seeing the error of his ways and vowing to keep Christmas in his heart, he swears to be a changed man. However, becoming a “changed man” does not mean halting his life, quitting his job, or moving far away for a dramatic symbolic reset. Instead, he lets his experience cause a heart transformation, renewing the way he interacts with the old environments and relationships he held before.
Scrooge exemplifies what it looks like to make mankind our business. In the last few scenes of the story, Scrooge gives his wealth generously to the poor, raises the salary of his business associate, and vows to do whatever it takes to take care of Tiny Tim, among others in his neighborhood who are under resourced or overlooked.
Essentially, Scrooge shows us what it means to transform businesses, resources, and work to shift from an inward heart to an outward one, loving others through work, income, and sacrificial relationships.
What would it look like if we let the gospel transform all things, including work of all kinds? Take some time to reflect on what your business does for the business of mankind. We have no shortage of strings attached.Topics: Christian Life, Theology, Work and the Common Good