Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reap where You Did Not Sow

Gopher Tortoise... carries his stuff with him wherever he goes, but still must leave his shell behind when he passes on to that Great Pond in the sky.
          Reflecting on one of Mom’s most often quoted Scriptures, the parable of the talents mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that my problem with most of the liars, fools and charlatans I have worked for is that they reap (or attempt to) where they have not sown. It is the same problem that I have with Dr. Joe Vitale and the proponents of the law of attraction, as well as with predatory investors, predatory lenders, multi-level marketing schemers, prosperity evangelists, grifters, and a slew of derivatives traders in the securities markets. They all want to reap where they have not sown. They all want something for nothing. None of them are in the business of creating value, but this does not dissuade them from the attempt to get high returns from the rest of us.
Since this is the lament of the unfaithful servant in the Gospel, I’ve been forced to re-examine the passage for a deeper enlightenment that has thus far eluded me. I’m okay classifying Henry, Ivan and the others as “gathering where [they] did not scatter seed,” but I don’t really want to classify myself as unfaithful. I have always tried to keep the faith, even when doing so seemed counterproductive to the furtherance of my own aims. I have always, in my work, sought to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of stakeholders, and to accomplish this I have often worked at cross purposes with my bosses. I have not, in effect, returned the talents I received plus an equal number that I did not receive, and I have not been invited, therefore, to “enter into the joy of my master[s].”
This is more than a little disconcerting to me. I don’t want to be the faithless servant, but it would seem that I have become him in spite of my adherence to good faith and good purpose. Should I have behaved differently? I honestly don’t know. I could have gotten a different result by being more self-interested, but then I would also be closer to the ranks of those who reap what they did not sow—not a place I ever want to go except by happy accident.
After a little reflection, I realized that the disconnect in my understanding of the parable was that, while the landowner in this instructive little story may stand in for God, God does not stand in for Henry or Ivan or Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein or Dick Fuld any other venal, self-serving, godless fool bent on harvesting more than his due in real life, up to and including Bernie Madoff. In real life there are those who create value and those who do not. For the non-creators, the business of life is a zero sum game. Whatever a non-creator gets must come from someone else. Whatever comes from someone else, to the degree that value was not given for it, is stolen.

The Beatific Vision. Gold not required.
This is one of my favorite jokes. I would happily credit it if I knew from whence it came.
A man was worried that he would have to leave his accumulated wealth behind when he died. He felt that he had worked hard all his life, been honest and forthright in all his dealings, and made charitable provision for those less fortunate than himself. He felt justified, therefore, in wanting to take some of his fortune with him into the afterlife.
Making this argument, he petitioned his parish priest for a dispensation of sorts to enable him to enjoy his riches in heaven. The priest was naturally reluctant to promise the man something so far beyond his own pay grade, but the man persisted so the priest took the matter up with his bishop, and the bishop, in turn, took the matter up with the Pope.
The Pope, after much prayer and meditation, granted the man’s request with one caveat. The man could bring as much wealth with him to the pearly gates as he could stuff into one regular sized satchel, but no more.
Buoyed by this decision, the man immediately bought a leather satchel and converted as much of his holdings into gold bullion as would fit into it. Then he made arrangements to be buried with his treasure and waited to die. Presumably he continued to live his life as he had before, only with the added comfort that he was, in spite of all platitudes to the contrary, going to be able to ‘pass through the eye of the needle’ with the fruits of his labors intact.
One day the man died, as all of us must, and came before the gates of Heaven where he was met by St. Peter himself. St. Peter noticed the leather satchel at the man’s feet.
“I’m sorry,” St. Peter said to the man, “but you’re not allowed to bring that in here.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” the man replied, “I have permission from the Pope to bring it—one satchel only, but it’s mine to keep.”
St. Peter stroked his beard a bit, and consulted his records. “Okay,” he said at last, “but I’m going to have to inspect the contents before I let you pass.”
“Of course,” said the man, opening the satchel for St. Peter to peer inside.
St. Peter looked at the gold bricks, then at the man, then at the gold, then at the man. His face wrinkled with puzzlement.
“You brought paving?” he asked.  


  1. I'm not all that familiar with the Bible, but it does bother me when people seek to take without giving. This is when karma rears its ugly head.

  2. Ileana Dominguez-UrbanNovember 11, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Jonah, I really empathize with some of what you've said about aimlessness and feeling a lack of accomplishment because I'm in a similar situation.

    However, I think you may be taking this parable too literally. A parable is "a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson" and allegorical means "figurative." The parable isn't talking about what we should do with our own wealth, nor is it telling us what we should be doing for our earthly masters. (Render unto Caesar ...)

    The parable has a double meaning. On the one hand, Jesus is the Master explaining to His disciples the job they will need to do once he is gone. In a broader sense, God is the Master and the parable is telling us what we should do with the gifts God gave us in carrying out our mission on earth. If you were given great wealth, then you should be using it to do God's work. If you were given the skills of a surgeon or of a nurse, you should be using those to make people better, not to enrich yourself. If you were given the ability to make people laugh, have you kept it to yourself or have you made people laugh? Have you ever spread smiles or lightened someone's load or helped raise the next generation? Have you thought of volunteering to help poor people at tax time?

    Recently science has concluded that laughter can have very positive physical and mental effects. So, your mother's view that comedy is frivolous is wrong.

    If you want to know what you need to be able to show the Master on Judgment Day, read on through Matthew 25:31-46 and see whose lives are rewarded.

  3. Thank you, Ileana, for your comments. None of what I say should be taken too seriously, because for me humor is a coping mechanism and I have a lot of stuff with which to cope. I often used humor in my younger days to cope with the fact that Mother was never wrong. I believe that now she would find that exceedingly funny.

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