Saturday, September 8, 2012

There Was a Crooked Man

And Jesus said:
There was a man went forth one day to pay a debt he owed. The debt was due that day. If he did not pay the debt before the onset of the Sabbath, his creditor would be forced to shut off all the water resources in the man's home, leaving him and those who lived with him bereft of those necessities.

Along the way, he happened upon a beggar kneeling at the side of the road. Moved by the beggar's plight, he gave to him his loose shekels and continued on his way.

When he had reached the place of his creditor, he told the steward who worked for this man that he was short the debt by the number of coins he had given to the beggar. Moved that he had given alms to the poor, the steward replaced the missing amount from his own purse, and the man was able to return to his home, gladdened in the knowledge that his good deed had prompted another in return.

He then gathered all his friends together and told them this story. They admired his uprightness greatly and said among themselves, "We will kill the neighbor's fatted calf while the neighbor is away. He will likely never miss it." They then did so, and they feasted through the night.
That is the basic story someone I know posted last night—where else?—on Facebook. It was soon showered with 58 "Likes" and 27 favorable comments.

The whole thing left me rattled with indignation. It offended me. What this man had done was a con job. It was thievery.

Here is the same story told another way, the way I see it:
There was this guy who was pretty lackadaisical about paying his debts because he wasn't predisposed to accept responsibility. He had let his Sewerage and Water Board bill go unpaid for so long that the agency had sent him word that if a certain amount of his bill were not paid by close of business on a given day, his services would be shut off.

At the last minute, the man gathered just enough of the amount due by collecting funds from his partner and the other tenants of the house they all shared and set off to pay the bill.

On the way, he was accosted by a New Orleans beggar and absentmindedly gave the beggar all his loose change. Which was a part of the debt to the Sewerage and Water Board!

When he subsequently came up short in his payment, he told his sad story to the clerk at the agency's office and conned her into making up the difference on his bill from her own pocket, an act that could lead to her immediate termination should it ever become known.
The story attempts to shed a rosy hue on a picture of the joys and good karma of selfless charity.

Except, of course, it isn't selfless, and it isn't charity. It's an act of self-aggrandizement, of infantilism run wild. It's a middle-aged man saying, "I have no need for personal responsibility. I will always find someone to cover my debts, correct my mistakes, wipe my butt, and prop me up."

And he's right.

Me, I just think that if you're going to strap on the Jesus wig and beard, at least keep in mind that other parable of His, the one that ends with, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's..." I'm sure you know it. If you don't, look it up.

A little work is good for you.


  1. Also. The man had so many fatted calves that his neighbors thought they could take one and he would never miss it? And their response to hiis ... well, self-aggrandizement ... was to steal from him? I keep contemplating that part of the story.

  2. That was me being snarky. The comments he received were so far from being clear-eyed that I felt those people needed to share some of the responsibility as well, in part due to their willingness to encourage and enable this man's irresponsibility. The people who share his house, work at jobs, pay him rent, and take care of the house's upkeep could have found themselves without water for an indefinite period of time due to his handing off 41¢ to a person in the street. It may be a cliche, but charity begins at home.


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