Abraham Lincoln once said, "If, in your judgment, you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer."
It has often been said, "Honesty is the best policy," on the grounds that it will keep you out of trouble and make you admired. Someone has remarked concerning it, "He who acts upon this principle is not an honest man." It would seem however, that there is some decline in honesty, for there is now one major crime committed in the United States for every sixty persons. In the last ten years, the crime rate in the United States has been exploding at a rate four times as fast as the rate of the growth of our population.
The justification for cutting corners, taking bribes and other forms of dishonesty is twofold. First is, "Everybody's doing it." The assumption here is that right and wrong are questions merely of mob judgment, rather than of standards. It forgets that right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong. A second justification is, "My conscience is clear." What conscience is not clear if it makes its own standards? What note on a piano is wrong if the musician who strikes it declares it to be the right note? If a conscience decides that eighteen inches will be a yard, who shall prove him wrong? The atheistic Krushchev, with all the crimes of the Ukraine on his back, said, "God knows I do right."
Every act of dishonesty disturbs the balance of justice and therefore, demands restitution. The old law of Moses on stealing was, "If he is found guilty, he must make restitution, giving back in full all that he hoped to gain by his knavery, and a fifth part beside, to the owner whom he has wronged."
Zaccheus was a public servant of the Romans, a tax gatherer who paid a large sum for his office. Part of the taxes he would give to the Romans, but he pocketed all he collected over the amounts due them. Unless his exactions were too ruinous, there was little fear of exposure. But one day he was checked in his dishonesty, not by having it exposed in the press of the times, nor by having the prosecuting attorney of the Romans bring him to a halt. He was "arrested" by the moral stringency of Our Divine Lord, Whose awful eyes pierced his soul and made him seek not only pardon, but also render restitution. Standing upright, he said, "Lord, here and now I give half of what I have to the poor; if I have wronged anyone in any way, I make restitution of it fourfold."
We once received a plain, brown envelope in which there was stuffed $4,600 in bills, and to which was attached an anonymous note to the effect that the sender was making reparation for his dishonesty to an insurance company, the name and address of which was given. We sent the money to the insurance company and told them of the unjust claim that had been made against them, but the name of the one who had made the restitution remained unknown. Regardless of how much one may have taken, and regardless of how secretly it may have been done, and regardless of how one may have justified it in his own false conscience, the Divine words still stand: "Believe Me, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny."