In the Catholic America magazine, James Martin, S.J. offers the following retelling of familiar gospel stories using laissez-faire capitalist values like those of libertarian hero Ayn Rand’s sacred text Atlas Shrugged. I know some of you will roll your eyes, but consider these questions. Would you heal a man whose friends had just torn the roof off your house? If you were the main speaker at a rally where the people in attendance hadn’t brought food, would you personally take responsibility for feeding every single one of them? If you met a rich young man who followed the Bible perfectly, would you tell him to give all his money away to the poor? These three gospel stories as they really happened are incomprehensible to the value system that has sprouted in America over the past 30 years. Never in our history has there been more contempt for the concept of the common good than there is today. So allow yourselves to be challenged by the satirical version of these stories below.
The Lazy Paralytic
1. When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at his home. 2. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
5. When Jesus saw this he grew angry, “Why did you wreck my roof? Do you have any idea how much that cost to install? Do you know how many tables and chairs I had to make in my carpentry shop to pay for that roof? The reeds alone cost five talents. I had them carted in from Bethany.” 6. The disciples had never seen Jesus so angry about his possessions. He continued, “This house is my life. And the roof is the best part.” The disciples fell silent.
7. “It’s bad enough that you trash my private property, now you want me to heal you?” said Jesus, “And did you not see the stone walls around this house?” “Yes,” said the man’s friends. “Are these not the stone walls common to the towns and villages of Galilee?” 8. “No,” Jesus answered. “This is a gated community. How did you get in?” The man’s friends grew silent. 9. Then Jesus turned and said to the paralytic, “Besides, can’t you take care of your own health problems? I’m sure that your family can care for you, or maybe the synagogue can help out.” 10. “No, Lord,” answered the man’s friends. “There is no one. His injuries are too severe. To whom else can we go?” 11. “Well, not me,” said Jesus. “What would happen if I provided access to free health care for everyone? That would mean that people would not only get lazy and entitled, but they would take advantage of the system.
12. Besides, look at me: I’m healthy. And you know why? Because I worked hard for my money, and took care of myself.” The paralyzed man then grew sad and he addressed Jesus. “But I did work, Lord,” said the paralytic. “Until an accident rendered me paralyzed.” “Yes,” said the man’s friends. “He worked very hard.” 13. “Well,” said Jesus, “That’s just part of life, isn’t it?” “Then what am I to do, Lord?” said the paralytic. “I don’t know. Why don’t you sell your mat?” 14. All in the crowd then grew sad. “Actually, you know what you can do?” said Jesus. “You can reimburse me for my roof. Or I’ll sue you.” And all were amazed. 15. “We have never seen anything like this,” said the crowd.
The Very Poorly Prepared Crowd
1. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve apostles came to Jesus and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” 2 But Jesus said to them, “Why not give them something to eat?” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 3 For there were about five thousand men.
And Jesus said to his disciples, “You know what? You’re right. Don’t waste your time and shekels. It would be positively immoral for you to spend any of your hard-earned money for these people. They knew full well that they were coming to a deserted place, and should have relied on themselves and brought more food. As far as I’m concerned, it’s every five thousand men for themselves.” 4. The disciples were astonished by this teaching. “But Lord,” said Thomas. “The crowd will surely go hungry.” Jesus was amazed at his hard-headedness. “That’s not my problem, Thomas. Better that their stomachs are empty than they become overly dependent on someone in authority to provide loaves and fishes for them on a regular basis. Where will it end? Will I have to feed them everyday?”
“No, Lord,” said Thomas, “Just today. When they are without food. After they have eaten their fill, they will be healthy, and so better able to listen to your word and learn from you.” Jesus was grieved at Thomas’s answer. Jesus answered, “It is written: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” So taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and took one loaf and one fish for himself, and gave the rest to the twelve, based on their previously agreed-upon contractual per diem. But he distributed none to the crowd, because they needed to be taught a lesson. So Jesus ate and he was satisfied. The disciples somewhat less so. “Delicious,” said Jesus. What was left over was gathered up and saved for Jesus, should he grow hungry in a few hours. The very poorly prepared crowd soon dispersed.
The Rich and Therefore Blessed Young Man
1. As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 2. And Jesus said to him, “What have you done so far?” 3. And he said to Him, “Well I was born into a wealthy family, got into a good school in Galilee because my parents donated a few thousand talents for a building with a nice reed roof, and now I have a high-paying job in the Roman treasury managing risk.”
4. Looking at him, Jesus felt an admiration for him, and said to him, “Blessed are you! For you are not far from being independently wealthy.” And the man was happy. Then Jesus said, “But there is one thing you lack: A bigger house in a gated community in Tiberias. Buy that and you will have a treasure indeed. And make sure you get a stone countertop for the kitchen. Those are really nice.” The disciples were amazed. 5. Peter asked him, “Lord, shouldn’t he sell all his possessions and give it to the poor?” Jesus grew angry. “Get behind me, Satan! He has earned it!” Peter protested: “Lord,” he said, “Did this man not have an unjust advantage? What about those who are not born into wealthy families, or who do not have the benefit of a good education, or who, despite all their toil, live in the poorer areas of Galilee, like Nazareth, your own home town?”
6. “Well,” said Jesus, “first of all, that’s why I left Nazareth. There were too many poor people always asking me for charity. They were as numerous as the stars in the sky, and they annoyed me. Second, once people start spending again, like this rich young man, the Galilean economy will inevitably rebound, and eventually some of it will trickle down to the poor. Blessed are the patient! But giving the money away, especially if he can’t write it off, is a big fat waste.” The disciples’ amazement knew no bounds. “But Lord,” they said, “what about the passages in both the Law and the Prophets that tell us to care for widows and orphans, for the poor, for the sick, for the refugee? What about the many passages in the Scriptures about justice?” 7. “Those are just metaphors,” said Jesus. “Don’t take everything so literally.”