As regular readers can attest, I have not so subtly mentioned that I have a book coming out in August. It’s a global history of corporal punishment.
In the course of preparing the manuscript, I collected hundreds of quotes and references to corporal punishment. This week one came to mind as appropriate for another subject.
The passage is Luke 12:47-48. Verse 47 says, “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.
Verse 48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
While instructive spiritually, these verses also have a considerable merit as legal and political prescriptions.
Verse 47 distinguishes between overt willful defiance and unwitting neglect. They are both bad acts, but one is clearly more serious than the other. It is also important because it sets out the idea that punishment should be administered with respect to the severity of the “crime.” Deuteronomy 25:2-3 echoes something similar.
Verse 48 is more familiar. It has transcended biblical usage and taken on a cultural meme status. Simply put, the more a person has — knowledge, wealth or whatever — the more that person is obliged to practice, perform and share his gifts.
Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible argues that the verse means, “the greater his gifts are, the more useful he ought to be, and diligent in the improvement of them… in proportion to what a man is entrusted with, the greater increase and improvement it is expected he should make.”
In other words, don’t squander what you’ve been given, but maximize and share it.
Outlined in these two verses, we see two signal admonishments: Proportionality and reciprocity. I think it is no coincidence that these verses are proximate and entwined.
Further, the positioning seems to suggest that the ideal of proportionality carries forward into the obligations one has with regard to building upon and sharing their gifts.
Thumbing through several national news and politics sections as I am wont to do, it strikes me that these lessons are largely lost on many aspirants to governmental office.
Gov. Mitt Romney provides a particularly telling example. Following weeks of questions over his personal wealth and business dealings, the presumptive GOP nominee said recently that criticism of the wealthy (referencing his family in particular) would spell economic calamity.
First, we can cut the governor a little slack as political speech leans naturally toward hyperbole. Even with that caveat, there’s a lot of distance between critique of modern robber barons and the inevitable coalescence of Red Square revolution.
There are plenty of hard-working, talented, smart, financially shrewd people who never amass fortunes. When Romney talks about wealth, he always tacitly implies that he (and those of his bracket) intrinsically deserve what they have — they are somehow owed it.
At least with European royalty, they’re upfront with their silly delusions of superiority. They don’t try to cloak it in a self-made man, up by his own bootstraps fantasy — setting aside the whole “divine right” notion, that nobody now believes.
This fantasy is buttressed by John Steinbeck’s observation that the American poor are groomed to an inaccessible aspirational class affinity, or as he says, they see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
As evidence, Romney’s own words to CNN’s Piers Morgan are sufficient: “There are people who are trying to attack success and are trying to attack our success; that’s not going to be successful. When you attack success you have less of it, and that’s what we’ve seen in our economy over the last few years.”
To be clear, nobody is attacking success. Success is wonderful. It beats the heck out of sleeping on a sidewalk, but it also requires proportional reciprocity. Romney has been given much. Accordingly, we expect much of him.
Unfortunately, our expectations have been met with a sense of entitlement and secrecy. Romney knows his public master’s will. He’s just chosen to defy it. Fortunately, there’s a contingency for that, too.
Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country. He writes from Pine Bluff, Ark. Contact him at email@example.com