Sunday, July 15, 2007

Business and the Good Samaritan

Today, Catholics everywhere will once again hear the story of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. It is one of the world's most famous parables.

In the time of Christ, Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies, each considering the other heretical. The idea of a Samaritan helping a wounded Jew would have been unsettling. Even more disturbing would have been the fact that the two other orthodox Jews in the story, a priest and a Levite, ignored the suffering of their kinsman.

There are many lessons we can draw from this parable. For people in business -- that is to say, for anyone involved in the process of wealth creation -- one of the most important lessons comes from Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990.

In a 1987 speech to Scottish Conservatives, Thatcher observed, "No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money as well."

Wealth makes charity possible. The creation of more wealth makes even more charity possible.

One other person in this parable is often overlooked. He is the unnamed innkeeper who took in the wounded Jew, and extended the Good Samaritan credit for the Jew's care. The innkeeper was not acting charitably, but the resulting business arrangement made him an important player in the Samaritan's charitable effort.

Business and charity are not the same thing, and it is a mistake to make them act like they are. But they can work well together towards the same end when each acts according to its strength and purpose.

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