A parishioner sent me a link to this NYT op-ed because it was floating around social media, and she wanted to know if I had a quick take on it. I do, actually. If you don’t want to read the piece, knowing that you will never get those minutes back again, the set-up is a series of exchanges between Jesus and “Paul of Ryan,” with Ryan playing the dense disciple who simply cannot understand that Jesus came here to “help people.” In other words, the compassionate Jesus v. the hard-hearted conservative. The world in which NYT writers live must be a bubbling and seething cauldron of staggering creativity. I don’t know how they come up with these exotic scenarios.
So look. The central idea in this is really lame. How lame is it? Well, if this conceit, this idea, were a first century Jerusalem beggar, it would take at least three apostles to get him up and going.
Nicholas Kristof—for he was the offending writer—just quietly assumes that “we” were standing around listening to Jesus, with a bunch of money in our pockets that “we” already had, somehow. It didn’t come from anywhere. We just had it. When the curtain rose, the need was before us, Jesus was all set to address it, and Paul of Ryan objected because if Jesus started being generous with what He had, that might set a series of events in motion that could result in us having to be generous with what we had. And then what would the harvest be? And the little parable works because he quietly smuggled in the assumption that “we” are a single individual, kind of like Zacchaeus, and all we have before us is the basic moral choice that a wealthy man has when confronted with a genuine need.
But where did “we” get this money that poor old Paul of Ryan is being exhorted (by example) to spend on the poor? Well, we confiscated it from everybody. The government has money because they use men with guns to coerce people into surrendering it. So you have a bunch of average joes out there, trying to make a living, in a welding shop, say, and then men from the government—let us call them “pirates”—come to their house or business with guns and big block letters on their windbreakers, and they seize the stuff. Having seized that stuff they head on back to Washington to stuff the stuff into their swollen coffers. This largess is then distributed to others in the same way Viking chieftains used to do it as ring-givers—as a vote-buying technique.
And then, when someone in Washington with a residual conscience says something like, “I am really not sure that we ought to continue pillaging the serfs this way,” a cutesy writer from the NYT comes up with a parable for him. A sanctimonious parable. A self-righteous parable. An economically illiterate parable. A smug parable. A parable as told by the Pharisee who had been at the Temple to pray, thereby discovering how much better than other men he was. He told it to himself as he walked home unjustified.
If we wanted to tell a parable, someone should come up with one that shows how thievery is not justified retroactively by subsequent vote-buying. That could be a good one.