Tough Times for Wise Virgins

The biblical parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) is particularly relevant today. As you may recall, the five wise virgins behaved responsibly and prudently, making sure they had enough lamp oil for the midnight arrival of the bridegroom. The five foolish virgins, by contrast, diddled around, and didn’t get oil. At the last minute, they asked their wiser sisters for some of their oil, whereupon the wise virgins, not wanting their own lamps to run out of fuel, told the foolish girls to go buy their own oil. When they did, they missed the celebration.

The parable illustrates that we reap the consequences of our choices, for good or ill, and we are responsible for our own success or failure. (Let me hasten to add that the parable’s primary significance is theological; however, Jesus often couched his spiritual lessons in everyday terms that were easily understandable to his listeners.) In this parable, there was no socialistic redistribution of property from the prudent to the imprudent. The foolish virgins weren’t charity cases, unable to fend for themselves. They simply didn’t make the necessary effort to succeed. Each virgin got what she deserved.

Today, the “wise virgins” are those millions of Americans who are diligent, responsible, law-abiding, and financially prudent. They pull their own weight and don’t impose a burden on others. They are the bedrock of society. Today, though, they are under siege.

Consider the deflating housing bubble: Think of how many times politicians of both parties have proposed federal assistance to bail out mortgage-holders. Many Americans who put little or no money down now owe more than the current market value of their house. While we surely sympathize with their unhappy predicament, why should they receive government assistance? Did Uncle Sam give special subsidies to those who were more financially conservative and deferred home ownership—often deferring Hawaiian vacations or new cars—until they could make a sizable down payment? Why should the tax dollars of wise homeowners bail out homeowners who took on more debt?

What about proposals to bail out borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages for which the interest rate has reset higher? How is that fair to all the Americans who didn’t bite on low teaser rates, but deliberately took on higher monthly payments at the outset so as to avoid the risk of rising interest rates?

The same unfair dynamic—the prudent being forced to pay for the mistakes of the imprudent—characterizes corporate bailouts. Those “wise virgins” who haven’t bankrupted themselves (and whose pay, incidentally, is generally lower) are expected to shoulder rescue packages for the economic elite—for Wall Street firms, whose executives are at the pinnacle of the white-collar pay scale, and for the Big Three auto companies, whose UAW workers are near the top of the blue-collar pay scale.

Besides being financially prudent, today’s “wise virgins” share other virtues. They are loyal patriots who cherish their citizenship, uphold our democratic principles, and obey the laws of the land. For this, they deserve respect and honor; instead they see widespread contempt for those values, as politicians and political activists cater to those who defy our laws and principles.

Patriotic Americans feel betrayed when politicians cheapen citizenship by fast-tracking the naturalization of recent immigrants before an election, and when activists register illegal immigrants to vote.

Americans who play by the rules believe in the principle of one person, one vote; so when ACORN and others mock that principle by engaging in large-scale voter registration fraud, and neither the Justice Department nor the nightly news condemns such actions, what are they to think? What are they to think of President Obama’s attempt to include several billion dollars for ACORN in his so-called “stimulus” package? What are they to think of Obama’s astounding decision to transfer control of the next national census from the Commerce Department to his White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel? Is the “fix” on for 2012?

The ultimate insult to law-abiding Americans is the vigorous effort by some partisans to give felons the vote. Is there really a political upside to being “the party of felons” and granting lawbreakers the same political prerogatives as those who obey our laws?

2008 was a tough year for those who play by the rules, and 2009 may be even tougher. Congressional liberals have held hearings about nationalizing the private retirement accounts of today’s “wise virgins” to help guarantee retirement income for their unwise counterparts, who, for whatever reason, have not saved enough. The president-elect wants to give tax credits (i.e., free money) to low-income workers. He overlooks the fact that their incomes are lower either because they aren’t working as many hours as higher-income Americans or their labor produces less value. Obama wants more productive workers—mainly, those who made good use of 13 years of free education and continued to acquire skills, either through higher education or on the job, that create more value for their fellow citizens—to subsidize unproductive workers who didn’t expend a comparable effort. (Does anyone in Washington realize that such policies precipitated the Fall of Rome?) If this is social justice, then our ethical compass is broken.

How long can our society endure if Washington continues to abuse “wise virgins” and make the prudent pay for the mistakes of the imprudent?

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

    If people are imprudent, this is not news. Will the first person who’s never made a dumb mistake please raise your hand? We should help our neighbor because of our human solidarity with him–we recognize, that even if we haven’t made the same mistakes, we’ve made plenty of other mistakes (i.e., sins) that we are culpable for. Myself, I’m glad to help someone who’s at risk of losing his home. If all it takes is a little money, then I’m happy to do all I can.

    When Jesus returns, he will judge us on how well we have loved. This is the true meaning of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The wise virgins had enough love for the Bridegroom to be ready for his return; the foolish virgins were indifferent. So of course the wise virgins couldn’t impart their love to the foolish; that’s something each person has to find within his own soul. The parable is not about prudence; it’s about love for our neighbor. And I am perfectly happy to help my neighbor keep his home. We’re Christian. It’s what we do.

  • GaryT

    I agree completely in what you say about love. of course forced taxation and income redistribution is not love. Love can only be given willingly; it is a free act. The fact that bailouts are paid for by government debt means that the people who have to pay for this may not even be born yet – yet they will be taxed to pay for today’s bailouts. (This is known as taxation without representation).

    The only Christian way to help others is to willingly give of ourselves, including giving of our money. Paying our taxes is not charity.

    Also, I’m sure you know there is a big difference between helping someone in a crisis and enabling someone to continually fail to take care of themselves. Many parents make the mistake of always bailing out their kids rather than allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their own bad choices. This isn’t love at all. The problem with blanket government bailouts is that you don’t know which people you are actually helping get back on their feet vs. people you are enabling to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

    I would like to propose another parable: That of the talents. In Jesus’s version, the steward with 10 talents also received the one talent from the lazy steward. Our modern day version of this is to take 2 or 3 talents from the steward with 10 and give them to the lazy steward.

  • GaryT

    I agree with you that many people make mistakes. The Christian thing to do is help people if it helps them become prudent in the future. On the other hand if we act as an enabler to more bad behavior on their part, we are actually hurting our souls and commiting a sin!

    Also, love can only be given freely. Paying taxes is not love. If we want to help someone, it must be done of our free choice, giving of ourselves, our time, our money. So if you want to help keep your neighbor in their home, use YOUR money; that is Christian charity.

    When the government uses money from taxpayers today (and borrows against future taxpayers) to bail out people, this is not Christian love at all. The taxes are paid by force of law punishable by prison time if they are not paid (not a freely given act in the slightest). Since the recipient did not recieve the bailout as an act of love, it becomes an entitlement. A financial transaction occurred, but no love was given or recieved.

  • GaryT,

    Thank you very much for your comments. I will take them to prayer and see if I need an “attitude adjustment” of my own. However I would say one thing. It is possible to pay taxes just as we tithe–with an attitude of generosity, with the sense that I am helping my neighbor. Then what we give is given in love, even if, strictly speaking, we have no choice.

    I know that probably 98% of the money we give in taxes is wasted some way or another. Maybe I’m naive, but I think generosity can just be an approach to life. Taxes are a fact of life: we may as well Christianize them!

  • GaryT

    Sorry about the double post. The system wasn’t working properly.

    I agree that we can pay our taxes out of a sense of generosity. I’d like you to consider two things though:
    1. Most of the bailout money is being funded without increasing taxes; which means it is either through printing more money (which devalues the dollar and hurts the poor the most) or by borrowing, in which case it isn’t you that is helping these people out at all.
    2. Are you really being charitable if your money is going to fund groups that promote or provide abortions or other immoral activities?

    When we give a gift freely to someone in need, the receiver develops a sense of gratitude and the giver a sense of generosity – this is the heart of Christian love. When a person receives assistance from the government, the receiver develops a sense of entitlement (selfishness) and the taxpayer often a sense of resentment – no Christian love at all.

    I used to think similarly to you until I read “Rerum Novarum”, the first modern social encyclical. In it, the pope points out that socialism (forced transfer of wealth from one group to another) encourages people to covet other’s possessions. Actually reading the encyclical was erie because he was so prophetic in his predictions of the failings of capitalism and socialism that we are seeing today.

    One goal of socialism is for government institutions to wipe out Christian charitable organizations such that people become dependent on the government rather than on each other through charitable acts freely given. (Higher taxes discourages charitable giving.) While socialism attempts to masquarade as compatible with Christianity, it is not. It also ultimately will fail because a civilization in which duty and love are discouraged will die.