Recent headlines report accusations of deception and dishonesty at several levels of business and government. The public outcry against those instances shows people's longing for a higher standard of behavior. In another arena, today's Monitor explores how millions of dollars are spent by filmmakers to influence the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in a behind-the-scenes look at campaigning for an Oscar (p. 13).
Fair-mindedness, intuition, honesty, along with humility, kindness, and purity are among the solid building blocks for a successful civilization. They help express the true nature of men and women as children of God. That's why it's so saddening to discover people in business, government workers, filmmakers, athletes, clergy, investors, and politicians who might betray the public's trust. Somehow we're keenly aware that when those qualities are missing, the very fiber of civilization is threatened.
While it may be easy to slip into great indignation regarding such duplicitous and deceptive practices, if we stop there, we've done little to alter the tide. However, there is something more we can do, and it's well illustrated by Jesus' treatment of a man named Zacchaeus, described in the Bible (see Luke 19:1–10).
To a Jew in those days, Zacchaeus was the most despicable of men. He was a tax collector. The Romans, who ruled Israel, levied steep taxes to finance their empire. The Jews opposed those taxes on religious grounds; plus, the general practice was to defraud and overcharge, so a Jewish tax collector was betraying his own values and people when he lined his pockets.
We catch up with Zacchaeus just as Jesus passes though Jericho. The local people have come out in great numbers to see Jesus. Being short, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see what's happening. Surprisingly, Jesus knows him by name, which shows not just that he's aware of who Zacchaeus is, but also that he knows the man's true nature – not the false picture that appears duplicitous and deceptive. The name Zacchaeus means pure, innocent, and clean (see Lucy Bates, compiler, "Original Meaning of Scriptural Names"). This is how Jesus sees the man. He calls him down from his perch and says that he needs to stay at his house that day. The crowd murmurs disapprovingly. How could Jesus be so duped?
But here's the important part of the story. Zacchaeus scurries down to greet Jesus. The Master's touch of grace instantly alters the man. What follows marks the extent of Zacchaeus's transformation. He offers to repay, four times over, those he defrauded. This dramatic change illustrates his recognition of the Christ and of his own direct relation to God.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus gave this example of how we can meet the decline of professional ethics today. He in no way excused, justified, or condemned Zacchaeus's questionable business practices. Instead, he appealed to his nature as the image and likeness of God. This lifted the tax collector's consciousness to recognize a more honest manner of conduct. Referring to God as Life and Mind, Mary Baker Eddy explained it this way: "The great Way-shower illustrated Life unconfined, uncontaminated, untrammelled, by matter. He proved the superiority of Mind over the flesh, opened the door to the captive …" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896," p. 30). Jesus freed Zacchaeus to express his true stainless nature, which had been shrouded.
This ancient truth still stands today. Mrs. Eddy's major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," says, "We must look deep into realism instead of accepting only the outward sense of things" (p. 129). Had Jesus been content to see the tax collector as everyone else did, he wouldn't have attested to and drawn out the man's spiritual nature. A false picture of God and man hides God and His creation. By choosing to "look deep into realism" we, too, will discover and reveal another's higher selfhood. To the degree that we do, we can expect to see more evidence of fair play, justice, purity, and honesty expressed in industry, government, and other walks of life.