Earlier this week my Bible study group chose to highlight Luke 15. As I read through its famous parable of the prodigal son, I couldn't help but hear echoes of the present financial bailout that has so transfixed our nation.
Seven days ago the House voted to approve a $700 billion plan to rescue our teetering credit and banking institutions. I couldn't quite articulate why it made me so sad and angry at the time. I felt a rage, a disgust at the actions of Congress, so hastily concocted and thrust upon this nation as our only and superlative solution.
Now I can articulate the reason for those initial feelings, and it relates directly to the aforementioned parable.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tale, it describes a son of a wealthy landowner who demands his share of the family fortune and leaves for a far away land. There he squanders the fortune recklessly on prostitutes, partying and other frivolities.
Starving and desperate, the son returns home, confessing his unworthiness and repenting to his father, who takes him in and throws him an extravagant celebration, overjoyed that he has found his long lost son.
The son's older brother, who had remained with his father, patiently obedient the entire time, expresses a measure of shock and indignation at this compassion for such a deviant. His father reassures him that the remaining family inheritance is still his, and the celebration is warranted because the lost son was presumed dead, yet returned penitently.
The parable's message is a simple one: Forgiveness is available for those who sincerely repent, no matter the severity of one's misdeeds.
I have since heard some friends use this parable to justify the financial bailout that Congress passed. The irresponsible lenders were like the son in the story -- engaging in risky, ultimately crippling endeavors. Like the benevolent father, we had to look past these misdeeds and forgive them.
Yet there is a crucial difference between the two stories.
Unlike the prodigal son, the institutions in question did not repent. At no time did someone on the level of Paulson or Bernanke step forward to be held accountable for the situation.
Their words were always, "This must be done. If we don't do it, the entire system will collapse." Like a child who's inexplicably wrecked his bike, they insisted that, regardless of the cause, we must fix it. No remorse, no shame -- just pure, guiltless entitlement.
It is almost as if the prodigal son has returned, penniless and on the brink of death from his careless exploits, demanding medical treatment and more of the family fortune.
Does the father let his son die as punishment for his recklessness? Or does he save him out of caring and hope the son will not eventually repeat his past mistakes?
Here the paths of justice and necessity seem to pull in different directions. The answer is not so simple as in the original parable. Here there has been no repentance, no good reason to justify forgiveness.
Yet our government has elected just that. They have chosen to save the unrepentant son and give him the freedom to continue his debauchery.
Think the son has learned his lesson? Less than a week after the government took over AIG, their top executives casually spent $440,000 on a week-long resort vacation in California.
This is the son we're saving. This is the financial system we've elected to rescue.
They will not learn; they've shown that well enough. This time we must let the consequences of prodigality run their course.