Faced with the need to plug a gaping hole in public finances, to restore international confidence in the economy, and to try to protect the most vulnerable in society, what might the deputy for Nazareth have said if he had stood up in Dail Eireann at 4 pm yesterday?
If he was to waive the divine prerogative to make everything all right by saying a few words, what course of political action would he have proposed? Would Jesus have contemplated a 3% pension levy on public sector workers earning €15,000 a year? What might he have said?
Granting him the right to quote from the whole of the New Testament, and not just the bits he said himself, there are clear pointers to what might be the shape of Jesus’ programme for economic recovery.
Work would be the lynchpin of the policy. Work is something good; work is not a necessary evil but something that is done for God. The Letter to the Colossians Chapter 3 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”. (It’s something I must remember next time I’m doing the church bins).
Work in Jesus’ economic programme would not be something only for people who are forced to do it; there would be jobs for everyone who was able to work. Jesus would have been mystified that when Ireland had full employment and was having to recruit thousands of workers from overseas, there was still an unemployment rate of 4%. He might have pointed to the Second Letter to the Thessalonians Chapter 3, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Generosity was to be shown to those unable to work, but no-one able was to be given the option of simply doing nothing.
Equality would be important in the policy; a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Luke Chapter 10 and the First letter to Timothy Chapter 5 say, “The worker deserves his wages.” If people are to be properly rewarded, then there cannot be the huge differentials between the top executive salaries and the weekly wage of the working man. How can one man put in a week in the office and earn €2.9 million a year for taking his company into virtual bankruptcy requiring a bailout from taxpayers; while a man labouring on the roads gets a few hundred a week for his efforts? If the worker deserves his wages, then the massive differences in rates of pay need to be reviewed.
Saint Paul could be drawn upon if there were to be consideration of whether the redistribution of wealth was appropriate. In Acts Chapter 20, he says, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Not much case for laissez faire economics, in Paul’s eyes.
And what about those who might face the courts? Ephesians Chapter 4 proposes a rehabilitation programme: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need”.
The politicians didn’t listen to Jesus of Nazareth when he spoke 2000 years ago; they would hardly have listened to him if he had stood in Leinster House yesterday.