What You Always Have With You

     It feels a bit strange to be writing about this during Advent, but my wandering mind resists being told what to dwell on.

     The Gospel citation below is from John, chapter 12:

     Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
     Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
     Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
     This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
     Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

     [John 12:1-8]

     There are several threads running through that passage. The first is the naked revelation of Judas’s hypocrisy. Apparently Judas, along with his willingness to betray Jesus to the Hebrew religious authorities, was avaricious, and would skim from the bag of coins the apostles carried with them. That’s consistent with his betrayal of the Redeemer, who had befriended him, for money.

     But Judas had to put a good face on his criticism: “The money that cost could have helped the poor!” Here is our second point of interest. Regard the unceasing whining from the Left about “inequality,” “social justice,” and “the cruelty of capitalism.” Consider that despite the astonishing expansion of the welfare system over time, we have more “poor” than ever before in American history. (No, they’re not poor as our forebears would have understood it, but let’s leave that for another time.)

     Thomas Mackay had it right:

     …the cause of pauperism is relief. We shall not get rid of pauperism by extending the sphere of State relief…On the contrary, its adoption would increase our pauperism, for as is often said, we can have exactly as many paupers as the country chooses to pay for.

     Government charity, which by law must be rule-based and therefore uncritical of the recipient, is a mechanism for purchasing “poverty.” The multiplication of the “poor” in response to uncritical charity provides the State with a justification for unending expansion and ever higher exactions from the self-supporting. If you’re not thinking cui bono? at this point, see me after class.

     Here is our third point: Jesus came very close to saying outright that just as it is wrong to ignore the poor – by which He meant those in verified need of necessities, not just designer sneakers or smartphones – it is wrong to obsess over the poor. They will always be with us, no matter how extensive our charitable works. It’s a sad truth of existence under the veil of Time that there will always be people who can’t support themselves, or can’t afford vital medical care, or can’t look adequately after their children. We are permitted to have other priorities apart from feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, et cetera.

     And now we have our fourth point: If you are looking in one direction, you are simultaneously not looking in any other. Once again we face the question “Why do the obsessives want us to join them in their obsession?” In considering his opponents’ dismissal of his thesis about quality – i.e., their flip statement that “quality is just what you like” – Robert M. Pirsig provided the answer:

     Why should Quality be just what you like? Why should “what you like” be “just”? What did “just” mean in this case? When separated out like this for independent examination it became apparent that “just” in this case really didn’t mean a damn thing. It was a purely pejorative term, whose logical contribution to the sentence was nil. Now, with that word removed, the sentence became “Quality is what you like,” and its meaning was entirely changed. It had become an innocuous truism.
     He wondered why that statement had angered him so much in the first place. It had seemed so natural. Why had it taken so long to see that what it really said was “What you like is bad, or at least inconsequential.” What was behind this smug presumption that what pleased you was bad, or at least unimportant in comparison to other things? It seemed the quintessence of the squareness he was fighting. Little children were trained not to do “just what they liked” but…but what?…Of course! What others liked. And which others? Parents, teachers, supervisors, policemen, judges, officials, kings, dictators. All authorities. When you are trained to despise “just what you like” then, of course, you become a much more obedient servant of others—a good slave. When you learn not to do “just what you like” then the System loves you.

     Those others, who want you to do what they like rather than what you like, will strive to the utmost to get you looking in their preferred direction, so you’ll miss what’s happening in any other. While they gesticulate and rant about their pet “need,” their other hand will be deep in your pocket…if it’s not fastening shackles upon you to prevent any departure into realms they seek to shield from your prying eyes.

     Politicians, activists, and sleight-of-hand adepts have a lot in common. And these, too, we will always have with us.

     Have a nice day.


    • Drumwaster on December 10, 2023 at 3:40 PM

    I am reminded of one of Bill Whittle’s great essays on “Eject!Eject!Eject!”, regarding the comparisons between the most banal part of American life versus the greatest display of power and technology from an earlier age. I would post it here, but I have no wish to overtax the kind host’s resources, and I offer this link, which I hope they will review and permit to be included:


    • Tree Mike on December 12, 2023 at 9:15 PM

    Drumwaster, great story!

    Tree Mike

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