Trading Fairly (Leviticus 19:35-36)
This passage prohibits cheating in business by falsely measuring length, weight, or quality, and is made more specific by reference to scales and stones, the standard equipment of trade. The various measurements mentioned indicate that this rule would apply across a wide spectrum, from tracts of land to the smallest measure of dry and wet goods. The Hebrew word tsedeq (NRSV “honest”) that appears four times in Leviticus 19:36 denotes character that is right in terms of having integrity and being blameless. All weights and measures should be accurate. In short, buyers should get what they have paid for.
Sellers possess a vast array of means to deliver less than what buyers think they are getting. These are not limited to falsified measurements of weight, area, and volume. Exaggerated claims, misleading statistics, irrelevant comparisons, promises that can’t be kept, “vaporware,” and hidden terms and conditions are merely the tip of the iceberg. (For applications in various workplaces, see “Truth-telling in the Workplace” at www.theologyofwork.org.)
A woman who works for a large credit card issuer tells a disturbing story along these lines:
Our business is providing credit cards to poor people with bad credit histories. Although we charge high interest rates, our customers’ default rate is so high that we can’t make a profit simply by charging interest. We have to find a way to generate fees.
One challenge is that most of our customers are afraid of debt, so they pay their monthly balance on time. No fees for us that way. So we have a trick for catching them off-guard. For the first six months, we send them a bill on the 15th of the month, due the 15th of the following month. They learn the pattern and diligently send us the payment on the 14th every month. On the seventh month, we send their bill on the 12th, due on the 12th of the next month. They don’t notice the change, and they send us the payment on the 14th as usual. Now we’ve got them. We charge them a $30 service charge for the late payment. Also, because they are delinquent, we can raise their interest rate. Next month they are already in arrears and they’re in a cycle that generates fees for us month after month.
It is hard to see how any trade or business that depends on deceiving or misleading people to make a profit could be a fit line of work for those who are called to follow a holy God.
Name withheld by request, as told to TOW Project Editor William Messenger at a meeting of the Fordham Consortium at Seattle Pacific University, August 5, 2011.