Even if he were not a religious man, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan would learn much about human nature from the Bible readings for the next two days.
Judas Iscariot leaves the meal in the upper room and leads the enemies of Jesus to Gethsemane because he was determined to pursue his own agenda, whatever that might have been.
The friends of Jesus melt away into the crowds as soon as they sense danger; self-preservation coming before friendship or loyalty.
The religious leaders are prepared to break their own laws and perjure themselves because protecting their own version of the ‘truth’ and protecting their own position in society came before upholding the law and protecting justice.
The Roman governor is prepared to collude in what he knows to be a travesty of justice in order to avoid disturbances that might jeopardise his career.
The Maundy Thursday and Good Friday story is a story of self-interest taking precedence. Not everyone is open to criticism: the women remain loyal as does John; as do Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. But, in most cases, people are guided by what is to their own advantage.
If Mr Lenihan does not believe that people will calculate as to what is in their own interest, he should meet the man to whom I spoke this afternoon. His employer is moving; not a great distance, but a sufficient upheaval to be offering redundancy packages to those who do not wish to move to the new premises under new terms of employment. The man has decided to take redundancy and then to sign on the dole.
“I looked at the budget and worked out that I would be better off not moving. I was only on the dole for a week in my life”.
The imposition of levies on people on low incomes has meant that some are reaching a tipping point. They are looking at their earnings and deductions, and at the cost of getting to work each day, and are thinking to themselves that they would be better off staying at home.
Basic human instinct is not to look to the ‘national interest’, or some sense of the ‘common good’, whatever those might terms might mean. Basic human instinct is to look out for oneself. In theological terms it might be defined as ‘sin’, but defining theological terms is not going to solve the economic problems.
Mr Lenihan needs a tax and benefits structure where self-interest impels people towards work and enterprise. If the good and desirable ends to which he aspires are to be achieved, he cannot count on goodness and charity. He need only look at Judas, the priests and Pontius Pilate to see that altruism and self-sacrifice are not in plentiful supply.