I'd really hoped to wait a few more years before saying, "wow! That idiot makes Rick Santorum look positively erudite!" But, alas, I don't get this wish, not after House Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL), during a fluff piece on ABC's Nightline, started testifying about her pledge to use all of her assets to win a Senate seat: "I am willing to take this widow's mite, this pearl of great price, and put everything on the line...No matter how much you have, are you willing to take what you have and sell it all for a great price?" What unearned self-regard -- why should folks care that she's willing to "put everything on the line" when she's never articulated a reason for her to put everything on the line besides "I want to be a U.S. Senator"? And as for her "widow's mite," and her "pearl of great price," no Christian should tolerate such a hysterical desecration of holy text.
Let's take the wayback machine to the time of the Gospels, shall we?
In Mark 12.41-43, Jesus observes a slew of rich folks donating "much" to the church's treasury, and then observes a widow giving "two mites." Jesus instructs his apostles that the poor widow "hath cast more in" because she gave "all that she had." Harris misses at least half of the wisdom of Jesus's parable: the widow is more devout, not just because she's given everything, but because she has less to give to begin with -- and whereas Ms. Harris won't have any problems making another pile of unearned money even after she exhausts her ten million-dollar "widow's mite," the widow in Mark 12.41-43 who gives her all has also given away her very life. What else does Jesus mean by "all her living"? He means the widow is going to die after giving her two mites. Katherine Harris, on the other hand, is going to remain quite comfortable after Bill Nelson vanquishes her at the polls in November.
As if to add insult to Katherine Harris's injury, I must note also that Mark 12.38-40, directly preceeding the tale of the "widow's mite," says the following (I use the King James Bible unless otherwise noted):
"And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
"And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
"Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation."
In other words: the "scribes" and those in "the chief seats" and "the uppermost rooms," who will be making the largest donations in 41-43, are suspect not merely because they give only a portion of their riches, but also because they're vain and pretentious and because they, can you believe it, "devour widows' houses," not unlike that of the widow in line 42 who shows the rich people up by giving her all. Would it be piling on to add that no destitute "widow" was ever married to a living real estate magnate and that buying yourself a Senate seat is rather little like donating your treasure to the commonwealth for the good of all?
Of course, it gets worse -- Ms. Harris not only contorts the parable in Mark so that it excuses her wealth rather than condemns it, she also follows "this widow's mite" with "this pearl of great price." The parallel structure leads you to believe that "this widow's mite" and "this pearl of great price" are the same thing, that when she gives up her fortune, she will be giving up "a pearl of great price." However, a perusal of the relevant text, from from Matthew 13:45-46, reveals that she's completely butchered the meaning of the epithet:
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
"Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
Since "the kingdom of heaven" is like "a merchant man" giving up everything to buy a "pearl of great price," the "pearl of great price" is in no way like a "widow's mite" -- it isn't what you give up to get heaven, it is heaven, it's what you get when you give up all you have. In other words, in the analogy relevant to Ms. Harris's life, the "pearl of great price" isn't the ten million bucks she's planning to spend, it's the Senate seat she's hoping to win. Seems a bit shallow put like that, doesn't it? I mean, I'd never think to compare winning a seat in the U.S. Senate to winning a place in kingdom of heaven.
I can already hear (in that part of my head that still listens to right-wingers who'll say anything to keep an argument going) that Ms. Harris means simply to invoke the difficulty of her task. But I don't care what people mean so much as what they say and do. It doesn't matter that getting into heaven is a difficult task and so is running against a well-funded opponent; it matters that winning a U.S. Senate seat is not a guarantee of wisdom or intelligence or utility. It doesn't matter that a "widow's mite" and "a pearl of great price" are both phrases from the Bible -- it matters that these phrases function as part of a story that leads us to a greater wisdom about the world. But you won't see that wisdom if you never think of anyone but yourself, if you believe that Jesus blesses the rich and powerful more than the smart and happy, and if you think "morality" is whatever gets the most knuckle-draggers to the polls. I still worry that plenty of benighted souls are impressed with Ms. Harris's "courage" because they think the Bible is made up of magic spells that help you get rich or avoid pain. So I'm going to match Katherine Harris's pledge with my own pledge: I'll campaign for the ejection of Florida from the union if its citizens are stupid enough to elect her to the Senate. Wealth without wisdom, religion without compassion, ambition without utility -- how did everything wrong with Republicans become incarnate in one human being?