A Modern Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins

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Jesus began to teach the crowd, bringing his message in the form of parables. "Before the wedding feast," he began, "There were 10 virgins. Five of them had brought extra supplies of oil for their lamps, while five foolish ones brought enough only to last a short while.

"Before long," he continued, "The five foolish virgins noticed that the oil in their lamps was running low, and they turned to the five wise virgins and exclaimed, u2018Give us some of your oil,’ they demanded, u2018because if you don’t our lamps will go out.’ u2018We cannot do that,’ the five wise virgins replied, u2018since there will not be enough and none of the lamps will stay lit.’"

As Jesus began to explain the lesson, Rabbi Frank, Rabbi Dodd, Rabbi Paulson and Rabbi Bush stepped from the crowd to confront him. "Rabbi," they said, "Are you not forgetting that you must have a concern for social justice and fairness?"

"How mean you?" asked Jesus, already annoyed that the four rabbis had interrupted his lesson. They began, "Is it truly just that some virgins have more oil than others? Can such a state of affairs be permitted in a just society?" "Hmmm," said Jesus, "I think this is becoming interesting. Go on."

"If there is need," continued Rabbi Frank, "should not others have to meet it?" Interjected Rabbi Dodd, "Why are the five wise virgins permitted to keep that oil to themselves? Should they not have to give it up, in the name of justice and fairness?"

Jesus replied, "I will ask you a question. If the wise virgins give half of their oil to the foolish virgins, would it not be the situation that when the bridegroom appears, there would be no oil left at all and everyone would be left in the darkness?"

Rabbi Paulson then spoke up. "I would hope that you would not appeal to greed," he told Jesus. "These wise virgin have a social obligation not to let the foolish virgins run out of oil," he said. "In fact, the foolish virgins have a right to demand an oil bailout!"

"You still have not answered my question," said Jesus. "If the wise virgins bail out the foolish ones, would not the bridegroom be worse off because all will be dark when he appears?"

"The foolish virgins have not only a right to the oil from the wise virgins, but they also have the right to take oil from the very Treasury of Oil itself," declared Paulson, seeming to be very proud of himself. Jesus, being puzzled at the statement, asked, "If they take from those stores, how will they pay for it?"

"They have a right to that oil!" shouted Rabbi Frank and Rabbi Dodd. "Besides," they added, "Even if they are just borrowing the oil, in the end we simply will owe it to ourselves."

Jesus still was not satisfied. "Why," he continued, "should everyone be forced to be in the dark because some virgins were not prudent enough to bring more oil? Should they not have to bear the burden of their misjudgments? Why should their foolishness be borne by all?"

At that, Rabbi Bush exploded in anger. "How dare you be satisfied with such a status quo! First, those foolish virgins were victims, for there is not enough affordable oil, and it is not right that only some have a full supply while others go empty-handed!"

He continued. "Second, the only just solution is for the wise virgins to bail out the foolish ones, or else people will have to live in darkness."

"Uh," Jesus replied, "I think that we already have established that if your plan is put into place, everyone will be in darkness."

Rabbi Dodd interjected, "Rabbi Frank and I have long believed that oil should be affordable for everyone, and that is why we have worked to increase the access of everyone to oil." "I know," replied Jesus, dryly, "Your scheme forced up the price of oil so high that only those who had been wise and prudent with their money could afford enough of it at the end. It is harder now to get oil than ever."

Rabbi Paulson stepped forward with a big grin on his face. "That is why we have a special plan," he told Jesus. "Foolish virgins can borrow all of the money they want from King Herod, who plans to borrow that money himself from the people."

"How will the payback work?" asked Jesus, concerned. "It seems that people will be in debt with no hope of repayment. You say you are borrowing from the people to lend to the people? Does not the Book of Proverbs say that the debtor is slave to the lender?"

"Not in our economy," replied Rabbi Paulson proudly. "We will owe it to ourselves."

And Jesus wept.

October 4, 2008

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.

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