When I was a teen, like most girls, I babysat. It was a way to earn a little extra money. I say “a little extra money” because my mother would not allow me to charge more than 50¢ an hour (75¢ past midnight), regardless of the number of children. It was only about a fourth of what my friends earned, but because of my mother’s insistence I was just plain stuck with it.
As you can imagine, at that price I was in high demand but had to work plenty of hours to make much of anything. So when I was hired to watch some relatives of one of my mother’s friends, I jumped at the chance, even though it meant babysitting four young children.
Except at the end of the night, their parents conveniently forgot to pay me. The next time I showed up to sit for them, I reminded them of this fact, and they promised to give me my wages for both nights.
But, by golly, at the end of the evening they didn’t have the right change. Could they wait until next time? Only, the next time their teenage son showed up to take over the babysitting, and he claimed he knew nothing about it and wasn’t going to pay me himself.
Yes, I was stupid enough to keep sitting for them on the promise that I would, eventually, get paid for it all. These were supposedly good Catholic people and I simply couldn’t believe they would steal from a child, especially the mere pittance I was charging. Finally, one time the parents called to request my services, I told them I would be happy to sit for them—but only if they first paid what they owed me. All of a sudden they didn’t need a sitter so badly.
I never got as much as a penny from them.
Of course I long ago forgave the debt, but what do you do with people who won’t pay up? I was owed a small amount, but there were times my father, who was a plumber, wasn’t paid for his services. When he did all the plumbing for our town’s new park, the city absolutely refused to pay him. He had to sue, which meant of course that a lot of the money went for lawyers and court costs.
Do these people not care that those wages are meant to support a family?
The Bible has harsh words for those who hold back what they owe. Jeremiah 22:13 pronounces a woe on such individuals. Deuteronomy 24:15 proclaims “Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
Jesus Himself says in Matthew 5:26 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
If by “prison” He means purgatory, it’s never worth it to hold back wages. Since whatever we do to others we do to Christ (Matthew 25:40-45) I would not want to die owing Him money, even if it were just the last penny.