“Your computer is broken!” “Your family member is in trouble!”
“Please help! You are called on to give aid to those in need!”
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…” Matt.10:16-17a
When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, he was sending them through the world, that is, through the territories where non-believers would be encountered. Though he was sending them to a specific group of like-minded and well-meaning newly professed Christians, Jesus was “programing” his disciples for the reality that they would encounter both the blatant unbeliever and the unbeliever masquerading as a believer who would test the loving-kindness Jesus calls all his faithful to model and live by. Our Lord’s words of warning are as important for us today as they were for his newly-commissioned Apostles.
Over the past two months my email has been hacked twice, not an automated computer-generated hack, but a real live human being! As I have learned, this person or persons went on to exchange e-mail correspondence with anyone who responded in faith, responding to my cry for help, masquerading as me to steal money from them. To those of you on the parish distribution list who received these emails, and to those who may have replied or engaged the scammers in some way, my deepest apologies. It is a sad statement on our world when those attempting to commit fraud prey on the church.
Likewise, in the past two months several members of our Creator Family have had traumatic encounters with people—not computers or robocalls, people-- who have called them masquerading as family members or official business or bank personnel looking for aid and financial “assistance.” Some of the invented scenarios given as a reason for need immediate assistance are outlandish at best and sinful and appalling at worst, as they prey on our innate sensibilities to help. These scammers may be misguided and lost; they may have had terrible lives which did not teach them the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, kindness and cruelty. Even so, Jesus has a word for them—Wolves.
These people are preying on believers; preying on the kind and generous, the open-hearted and the trusting. The actions of these people are nothing short of evil and Jesus, knowing that the world works to produce this type of people, has strong instructions for us: “…be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is not talking about Satan, but the crafty and careful serpent, cautious and wise. He admonishes the disciples to be holy and innocent, trusting and kind, faithful and optimistic, but also careful and cautious. Don’t let the world taint your heart and spirit and don’t allow the fraud and ill-intent of this world to sour your witness of love and hope. Do look out in faith and expect the best but be aware of those signs that point out that things are not what they seem.
If you get a call or an email or text from anyone claiming to need your help or that your bank account, email account, insurance account, etc. has been compromised and needs your attention, DO NOT proceed. Do not give money, your account information, your personal information, or access to any area of your personal affairs. If they say they are from you bank, hang up and call your bank—NOT with the number they provide, but look up the number yourself and then call. This rule is always applied, always. Hang up and start over by looking up the information yourself—not by using the information they give you. Nothing is ever so urgent that you don’t have time to do this; if they say it is, then you know they are lying, and you know what they are—wolves! The same is true of emails. Even the most reputable and well-used companies—Paypal and Amazon, to name a few, even my own Chase credit card—are not immune from scammers appropriating their logos, letterhead and other signs that they might be from an organization you trust. NEVER click a link in an e-mail, close the e-mail, look up your bank email yourself and start a new e-mail to them (this is the same rule as the phone call back). You can avoid great hassle, hardship and possibly damaging fraud by closing the email or disconnecting the phone call, and then contacting the company directly to see if there is truly business to attend.
Horae Homileticae wrote in his commentary on Matthew, “Now the wisdom of the one (serpent) and the harmlessness of the other (dove) are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such a union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Matthew, Vol. 11 318). These days are certainly about “coping,” are they not? I urge you to take strength and courage rather than hopelessness, for the ways the Lord is preparing us to cope. In the meantime, a few practical reminders and guidelines: I will never ask you for money by e-mail or text, and no legitimate person or company will ever ask you to pay in gift cards of any kind for anything. If you find yourself in this situation or are confronted with this sort of thing, please feel free to call me directly—I will help you.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†