Last week Kweku Adoboli, the UBS trader who gambled away £1.4 billion, was jailed for 7 years at Southwark Crown Court. He came very close to bankrupting Switzerland’s biggest bank with £7.5 billion bets in the financial markets.
What was his motivation? What was beneath the surface - inside him? Was he greedy? Was he unloved as a child? Many of those who manage to develop an answer satisfactory to themselves will have found that his motivation, the problem within him, was not one that, in their view, besets them. But are they right? Isn’t it terribly difficult to see ourselves when we use our own eyes for looking purposes?
It may help to come with me back 2000 years. Join me on the side of a mountain in Galilee overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The sun is shining brightly. The mountain-side is full of people of all kinds and nationalities listening to Jesus. Matthew, Jesus’ biographer records his words – the words in bold above. “Blessed are the meek – they will inherit the earth.” Then he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – they shall be satisfied.”
Was Kweku Adiboli “meek”? And did he “hunger and thirst after righteousness”? One of the national dailies reported this about him. “In a profile about himself on the website of his school he wrote that he had hopes of becoming a star athlete, or a chemical engineer.” He wasn’t meek; he was self-assertive.
What did he long for? Was it righteousness? No. His longing was for himself - to have many friends, to be popular, to be happy. Righteousness wasn’t high on his agenda. His break and butter was popularity. He was self-interested.
Are self-assertion and self-interest damaging? To others? Or to the person who lives by them? Or to both?
First, are they damaging to others? UBS would say so – as would all its shareholders – having suffered not only financial loss but also a fair amount of shame through this young trader.
But what about more generally? Is the women’s refuge a haven from the actions of self-assertive and self-interested men? Have you been hurt by another person who had those things inside?
More importantly, does my self-assertiveness and self-interest damage me? (Yes, Richard Syvret mustn’t escape this question.) Did those two things, when pursued by Kweku Adiboli, damage, if not ruin, the man himself?
My father, many years ago, with a gleam in his eye after selling a house for less than he thought it was worth and less than he could have had a few months earlier, said to me, “It was my greed. My own greed damaged me and went against me.”
Why did Jesus Christ teach this – if all of us have this self-destructive, self-assertion and self-interest? Why tell the crowds of the blessedness of the meek when no-one is meek, when all are self-assertive? Why speak of the happiness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness when all, instead, are self-interested?
Is it that Jesus wanted everyone to long to escape – from themselves? To be made anew? Yes, to have a completely new spring of life within – from him who himself was raised to life - from being dead and buried.