The following is a transcript from a well-known talk show on TV.
Host: My guest today is Mr. Immanuel Josephson. Over the past three years, people all over the United States have been uploading their videos of this man to YouTube. Many of them have gone viral. One of my favorites is a video that features a disheveled homeless man who has been sleeping in his own urine and whose stench is so bad that people avoid passing within 100 feet of him. In this video, Mr. Josephson walks right up to him and gives him a big bear hug. He gives the man his own clothes, and as the video fades out, Mr. Josephson is seen walking away wearing the rags that had previously belonged to the hobo.
In another popular feature, Mr. Josephson was intervening in a domestic dispute, trying to protect a woman from being assaulted by her husband. Mr. Josephson ended up in the hospital having taken most of the blows directed at the woman.
But these are only relatively innocuous examples of what Mr. Josephson has been up to. Many of his activities are more controversial, and many people have been saying that this man is threatening our American way of life.
Some people say he is encouraging people not to stand up for themselves. He is also teaching people to cooperate rather than to compete, to share their resources rather than amass individual wealth. This message undercuts the very incentives that form the basis for the success of our society, the very American DNA that has made this country great.
Even more seriously, some people think that he shows little respect for law and order. He has been giving shelter to illegal immigrants and other criminals, making it more difficult to protect our communities from unwanted elements.
Host: Mr. Josephson, thank you for being here with us today. What do you say to the charges that have been brought against you?
Guest: The purpose of my life is to do mercy, and mercy knows no boundaries.
Host: I understand that, but don’t you think you have to consider the consequences of your actions? What would happen if everyone acted like you, and if people knew they could expect others to behave like you? People would stop working, knowing that other people would care for them. Criminals would rule the day, knowing that their victims would forgive them and not press charges.
Don’t you think that you should distinguish between those who are in a miserable situation through no fault of their own, and those who are poor because of bad choices they have made? In other words, don’t you need to distinguish between those who are worthy and those who are not worthy of your sympathy? Otherwise, you are just going to encourage irresponsible behavior.
Guest: I have come to find the unworthy and rehabilitate them.
Host: What about those who are worthy? Don’t you think that those of us who do the right thing and work hard deserve to be rewarded for it?
Guest: Unless you give away all your money and come live as a bum like me, you will never experience genuine fulfillment and your whole life will have been for nothing.
Host: Why should I want to trade everything I have to become like you? I was born without a dollar to my name, and I have worked very hard to get to where I am today. I am now an accomplished professional, and I have become wealthy and famous. Why would I want to become a bum like you?
Guest: Those who think highly of themselves will be shown that they are nothing, but those who belong in the company of the down and out will truly be called great.
Host: Let me get this straight. You are saying that I am really nothing? I, who have spent my whole life working to improve myself and to improve our society. All this time I have been clueless. I should have been a loser instead.
Guest: When you see that all your accomplishments are worth nothing more than rubbish, you will be ready to receive an entirely new life, which is what I will give you. I will forgive your evil ways. I will show you mercy and teach you how to show mercy to others.
Host: [The host’s parting words have been deleted from the transcript.]
A few weeks after his appearance on TV, Mr. Josephson was arrested and put on trial. He was found guilty of thousands of counts of identity theft. His arrest was purely accidental, as the police had been investigating a highly placed member of a terrorist organization, and their leads suddenly pointed them towards Mr. Josephson, who had finally picked the wrong identity to steal.
Further investigation revealed that every person that Mr. Josephson had ever met had been given the same offer: They were given the opportunity to swap their identity with him. Only the criminals had taken him up on it.
Immanuel Josephson was found guilty in a unanimous verdict and sentenced to death.
After his death, the “victims” of Mr. Josephson’s identity scam issued the following statement:
“Immanuel Josephson took the blows that were meant for us, bore the stench that was caused by us, suffered the hatred that was directed at us, and ultimately died because he identified with us. By his wounds we have been healed. We deserved to die for our crimes, but he took the punishment that legally should have been given to us. We wish to express our sincere gratitude that our identity is now his identity and his identity is forever our identity.”
[The following sources contributed to this report: Matthew 1:23; Mark 1:40-45; Matthew 5:39-42; Leviticus 19:34; Luke 10:29-37; Luke 19:10; Luke 18:18-25; Luke 14:11-14; Philippians 3:4-9; Luke 6:36; Mark 15:6-15; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Luke 5:30-32; Isaiah 53:4-6; Luke 23:40-43.]
Dr. Sigurd Grindheim Ph.D. is an adjunct professor at Lutheran Brethren Seminary and teaches at several theological institutions in the US, Norway, and Ethiopia. He has also served as missionary, pastor, Bible translator, and journalist. He is the author of four books and a number of scholarly articles related to the Gospels and the letters of Paul. With his wife, Melissa, and their spoiled cat, Charlie, he lives in Evanston, IL.