Stave One of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol resounds with themes common to our readings this past weekend. You may recall that Scrooge returns home one night to discover, first, his former partner Jacob Marley’s face staring at him from the door knocker, and then, to his surprise, Marley himself, come to pay a visit from the great beyond.
What is most shocking to Scrooge is Marley’s appearance, particularly the chain… clasped about his middle, made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. When Scrooge inquires, Marley responds, I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard. I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Its pattern is not strange to Scrooge, Marley’s miserly partner.
Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed, Marley cries, not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its moral life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one’s life’s opportunities misused! Yes such was I! Oh! such was I!
Scrooge is baffled: But you were always a good man of business, Jacob, he says.
Business! replies Marley’s ghost, Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
Is there not an echo here of the story of the rich man of Luke's Gospel (often referred to as “Dives”) who failed to see poor Lazarus sitting at his gate, until the beggar was installed in the bosom of Abraham while the rich man suffered in the netherworld, filled with regret for all he failed to do during his life on earth? Woe to the complacent in Zion, Amos warns... Would that we all recognize in time, as Marley’s Ghost did too late, that Mankind is our business! And the common welfare is our business, too.