The wrong people got the right point.
The Wall Street Journal reported that major U.S. “securities and investment-service firms” are ready to break the record a second year in a row for pay – compensation and benefits – to employees. Last year these companies dished out $433 billion; this year the projected total is $448 billion.
By the way, that 4 percent increase is higher-than-expected revenue for those firms, which had been projected at 3 percent.
So for all the structural repair of the financial industry by the government, it’s a sweet, neat deal to work in the financial field, made up of “banks, investment banks, hedge funds, money-management firms and securities exchanges.” In other words, that sector of the economy the taxpayers bailed out so recently is now holding cash close to the vest when the freer flow of money would mean increased, desperately needed employment.
But evidently this wasn’t enough to satisfy the highly paid employees. First they complained that the newly adopted reforms would limit their bonuses – bonuses that would have increased their compensation even more. And then, along with other wealthy folks, they’ve now become highly incensed that their tax rates will revert back to those in force during the Clinton administration – that is, before the tax cuts of the George W. Bush administration – as they were supposed to by bipartisan agreement.
It’s an injustice, they claim. It’s taking away money to which they think they’re entitled.
I can only guess that a few of them happened to read the parable in Luke 18 and thought it referred to them. It is a parable, the text says, Jesus told so that those who felt they were being treated unjustly would not lose heart.
The parable itself tells the story of an unjust judge who didn’t fear God or respect people but was repeatedly, persistently, unrelentingly annoyed by a widow seeking true justice against her opponent.
For quite a while, the unjust judge refused to take up the widow’s claim. But, in the end, the unjust judge relented, saying: “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
These financial industry employees and other wealthy folks think the moral of the parable is for themselves to be as repeatedly, persistently, unrelentingly annoying as the widow was in the face of what they believe is an unjust judge. The “judge” here would be those politicians and members of the public who have the audacity to honor the terms of the earlier legislation and restore tax funds that would now serve the common good.
This fundamental misreading of the Gospel text seems to have spread beyond those of higher income brackets. So members of the middle-class Tea Party have joined in, complaining repeatedly, persistently and unrelentingly about:
· the injustice of providing adequate and accessible health care for millions of more people in the nation;
· the injustice of providing unemployment benefits for those out of work because of the reckless actions of those in the housing and financial industries;
· the injustice of providing funds for the automobile industry so that millions of jobs could be saved;
· the injustice of providing assistance to states and municipalities so teachers and public employees wouldn’t be laid off;
· the injustice of providing funds for desperately needed public works projects;
· the injustice of providing funds for the reform of the nation’s educational system; and
· the injustice of attempting to halt the devastating impact of global warming.
I’m assuming that those who are in genuine need – those who are the real victims of injustice in our nation – are trying repeatedly, persistently, unrelentingly to have their case heard and adjudicated.
But I and those who would be judges – just or unjust – can’t seem to hear them because of the din from those who misread and misapply the parable of Jesus.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.