Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who gets the money?

It's a familiar story.  3 business men. 1 business owner.  2 business models.  

You can find the story in Matthew 25:14-30.

To summarize the parable: an rich investor gave 3 men a certain portion of his wealth entrusting them to invest it wisely and turn a profit.  He trusted one of the businessmen with a large portion - let us pretend is was equal to $5000.  To another he entrusted $2000 and a third man received $1000.  

Two of the men put their money to work and by the time the investor returned; they had doubled their stacks of cash.  The poorest of the businessmen who received the smallest portion of the investor's capital did not make any profit.  He was terrified of losing the investors money and too afraid to start a company using the capital,  invest the cash or even put it in a money market account!  

What was the reaction of the rich investor?  He was very pleased with the first two!  He was so pleased, he offered them full-time permanent positions within his company.  He told them he was going to give them more money to see what else they could do now that they had earned his trust.  

Now when the third man showed up bearing the crisp (albeit a little dirty) $1000, the investor's countenance changed.  His smile was turned upside down and the steam began to pour out of his ears.  After going on a justified tirade, he stripped the man of his venture and declared in his best Donald Trump voice, "You're Fired!"  

Pay particular notice to what he does with the resurrected grand!  The guy with the MOST gets it.  What?!?!  

To be perfectly honest, when I was younger I thought the man with $4000 was getting cheated.  I convinced myself that the wealthy investor was not kind and if he had been the money would have gone to the rightfully deserving hard-worker with less.  Challenging our notions of how God should run His world is something Jesus does with style.

Why did Jesus' fictitious Mr. Trump put his previously uninvested funds into the portfolio of the new star of his enterprise?  Granted, the wording of my question gives the answer away.  The wealthy man rewarded the one man he obviously trusted the most.   This man did not get rich by being careless with his cash.   One might argue that the man who started with less, did just as well percentage-wise with his portion.  Yes he did!  But, why did he get less in the first place?  Why did one man get 62.5% from the owner?  He trusted him the most.

Now I do not believe that the point of Matthew 25:14-30 is to teach investment strategies.  Jesus was making a much more important point about His own return to earth in the future.  A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  I'm drawing my conclusions from the earthly story part, not the heavenly meaning.

Jesus' parable is illustrative of how He thought economically.  Seeking a suitable illustration, he chose this one because his audience would easily connect to it and understand His heavenly meaning.  In Jesus mind the expected behaviour of a business owner would be to be careful with his investments, reward those employees who performed well, and fire those who did not.

Let us change the story for the sake of argument.  Remove Mr. Trump from the story and plug in President Obama.  Who gets the money?

Our story is probably much different utilizing a spread the wealth economic model.   In fact, Jesus' "heavenly truth" goes out the window, but that is beside the point.  Our characters probably will receive a different sum under this different economy.  We would also see an entirely different outcome as well.  

Look at the numbers in Jesus' version.  $8,000 given to 3 stewards reaped $7,000 in profits with the "unprofitable" steward being fired - he gets no additional funds and loses what he was given. The portfolio looks strong with 2 profitable stewards of $15,000 plus the pending additional investments.  A bright outlook for the business owner and his two new partners.   As for the fellow on the outs; let us hope that after a period of wailing and gnashing his teeth he is able to learn his hard lesson and become profitable elsewhere.

Now let's imagine Obama's version.  $8,000 invested equally among the same 3 stewards would not reap as much.  Why?  We have a slacker in the mix.  With each getting $2,667 we would hope to get %100 return from the hard-working business men.  That means the $8,000 invested is going to reap $5,334 in profits thanks to the efforts of two men.  Now what is Obama going to say when he is given his results?  "Well Done!"  So we have 2 men with $5,334 in their portfolios and 1 with $2,667 (just what he started out with).  Obama would then presumably take from the richer men and "help" out the one lagging behind.  After all, "Since when is selfishness a virtue?" (Obama, 2008 presidential campaign)

Obama's company now has a total of $13,335, which is $1,665 less than Jesus' company.  But that is not where the most money is lost!  It is lost in the ensuing investment cycles.  The man who contributed nothing to the profit margin has no incentive to work hard in the next cycle.  And worse, the men who contributed all of the profit have LOST their incentive to contribute.  What is going to happen is that the two hard-workers will leave for greener pastures and Obama's company is being run by Timothy Geithner.  

I'm not trying to pick on the President, but he is the face right now of redistributionism.  Jesus' simple parable should help us to see the wisdom of the wealthy man in His story.  The rich man is after all, God.  The wealthy man was acting on sound business practices.  

This practicality and wisdom provided the character Jesus needed to convey a deeper spiritual truth.  That truth is that one day Jesus will return to earth.  Jesus has invested everything in His followers.  Those followers will not all be faithful to produce a return on Jesus' investment.   Some will bury the truth of the gospel and thus angering their Lord upon His return.  Some will let their light shine and spread the gospel (the real wealth!) to many; thus pleasing Jesus immensely.  He will be so pleased that rewards will be granted to those faithful followers; He will also grant them higher honor and service in His Kingdom.  

Jesus and Obama's economics are very different.  Both Jesus' earthly story and his heavenly truth teach incentivised labor; while our hypothetical company attempts to appease everyone ultimately rewarding failure.

As good stewards, let's redistribute the good news of Jesus Christ and invest His money wisely.  The world will be off in Jesus' economy.  God Bless America.




No comments:

Post a Comment