1273) Strictly Business

This short short story by Marvin Olasky appeared in the October 1, 2016 issue of World magazine, page 64, with the title “The Very Best Offer.”  Olasky is the editor of World (www.wng.org) and is the author of more than twenty books.

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     Forty-year-old John McKnight was precise in his business and theology.  He tithed 10 percent and kept a ledger book to make sure he didn’t sin.  He tipped 15 percent and always had $1 bills and quarters in his pocket so he could leave the right amount.  He marked up the windows he sold by 20 percent.  His bank balance increased by 25 percent each year.

     John also taught a course, ‘Negotiations,’ in the University of Texas MBA program.  Students over time forgot much of what he said but almost always remembered one takeaway:  Discern who is eager, maybe even desperate, to have your business.  Then, ask the seller, “Is this your very best offer?”  If he offers a small reduction, leave him twisting in the wind for a day or two to see if he’ll come back with something larger.

     When John decided to hire a small company, Martinez & Son, to paint his four-bedroom house, he researched the cost of paint and the going rate for the immigrants from Mexico who would do the work.  He thought Edgar Martinez might have a cash flow problem, so he peered over his glasses and asked him, “Is this your very best offer?”  When Edgar said he could cut the price by $1,000, John said, “I bet you can do better than that.  Come back to me in two days with your very best offer.”

     Edgar returned the next day with a $2,000 reduction.  John said, “I gave you two days.  Come back tomorrow with your very best offer.”  Edgar said, “This is a good offer.  I need to pay my men.  My son’s at your university, and you know how much tuition is.”  John said, “I do.  This is nothing personal, it’s strictly business:  I want your very best offer.”  The next day the discount was $5,000.  John, chuckling, signed the contract.

     By the time John was 55 he had $5 million in the bank, along with his four-bedroom house.  He had married at 45 and had no children but faithfully taught Sunday school for one quarter every 2½ years and had become a deacon.  Then his wife Jill walked out on him after nine years, even though he had provided for her well and been faithful.

      John was depressed. His pastor said, “I have something to help you out of your funk.  Take charge of our deacons’ assistance fund for four hours each Friday afternoon.  Homeless people come and tell you their stories.  If they sound genuine, you give them a $20 bill.”

      John agreed to serve and found he enjoyed being the judge of legitimacy.  One day the ragged man standing before him looked familiar.  John asked, “Do I know you?”  The man replied, “Yes, you do: name’s Martinez.  I painted your house 15 years ago.”

     John, momentarily startled, said, “You did good work.  Why are you here?”  The answer:  “Ran out of money.  Started drinking.  Hit my wife.  Left town.  But I heard my son started up the business again.  Once I get cleaned up I’ll go see Nick.”

     John gave him a $20 bill and almost pulled out his wallet to contribute $100 of his own, but then remembered he should stick with the rules.  When he went home, he walked all the way around the exterior of his four-bedroom house and saw what he hadn’t noticed before:  A drip down one wall had left boards bulging out.  Paint was chipping in some places.  The Texas sun had discolored others.

     John’s internet search yielded a cornucopia of house-painting businesses, but he fixated on a small one:  Martinez.  On Saturday Nick Martinez, the image of his dad, did a walk-around with John and answered questions about how the painting business was these days.  The next day, after church, John scrutinized an email with a bid.  Fair price, sure, but he suspected it could go lower.

     Monday morning Nick and John sat with a desk between them.  Nick handed over a contract.  John peered over his glasses and asked, “Is this …”  He couldn’t finish the question.  He started again:  “Is this …”—his throat clutched again.  Nick asked, “Is anything wrong?”

     John sighed, then signed, then smiled:  “No.  Is this something you can start on tomorrow?”

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Proverbs 14:31  —  Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Leviticus 25:35  —  If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them… so they can continue to live among you.

Zechariah 7:9-10a  —  This is what the Lord Almighty said:  “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”

Mark 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

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O Lord Jesus Christ, who though you were rich became poor, grant that all our desire for and covetousness of earthly possessions may die in us, and that the desire for heavenly things may live and grow in us.  Keep us from all vain expenses so that we may always have enough to give to him who is in need, and that we may not give grudgingly out of necessity, but cheerfully.  Amen.

Treasury of Devotion, 1869

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