Friday, January 8, 2016

Much Is Given

"To whom much is given, much is expected."

This admonition comes up often.  I saw it just yesterday in a newspaper sports column, of all places.

I have one little quibble with it: It makes no sense. The first word is wrong.  It should be "from," or the whole thing should be rephrased.

The quote comes from the New Testament, Luke 12:48.  Here is how it goes in many Bibles:

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."

President John F. Kennedy quoted the passage correctly in a speech in 1961.  Or maybe he didn't; people still disagree.

Bill Gates, recalling his mother's admonitions, got it right in his 2007 commencement address at Harvard, saying this: "From those to whom much is given, much is expected."
     Then, the next year, the Harvard Gazette misstated the idea in an article lauding Melinda Gates:  It said one of the two Gates Foundation principles was "To whom much is given, much is expected."

Unfortunately, that is the way of things with this passage.  I have posted an older Language Log article (that includes some political snark) on this topic on


However ham-handedly people say it, this verse resonates.

Thoughtful preachers, when speaking of it, remind us that the "much is given" idea extends well beyond worldly riches.

Which would you rather have?

A meaningful career with coworkers you respect -- or $5 million?

A healthy body that is free of pain -- or $10 million?

Happy children who grow into honorable adults -- or $20 million?

Gratitude and responsibility go hand in hand.

A New York Story

Last year, a 30-year-old man, handsome and a graduate of Princeton, went to his parents' Beekman Place apartment for a visit.  He asked his mother to go to a deli and get him a sandwich.  

While she was out, he argued with his father over a reduction in the son's monthly allowance.  The son shot his father, positioned the gun to make the death look like a suicide and then left in a hurry.  

The father was a wealthy hedge fund founder.  People who knew him said he was a pretty nice guy. 

The mother came home and found her husband on the floor with a gunshot wound in the head. 

We could say much has been given to her, but I wouldn't trade places with that woman for anything in this world.

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