Christian life: patronage

As previously mentioned, the world often (mostly?) operates on a system of patronage. The hallmarks of which are consistency and reciprocity: act in such-and-such a way so that you will be treated the same. And depending on where you are in the social or economic strata, you can establish obligations and dependence by other (or to others). It seems to describe lives marked by the calculations of balanced reciprocity—that is, by a circle of exchange that turns gifts into debts that must be repaid. To that worldly equilibrium, Jesus says:

32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit (is) that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners and get back the same amount. 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful.

Note that v.27 was “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” How can a patronal system exemplify this basic command to love the one we would call enemy? Is loving someone who already loves you more than a fulfillment of a prior obligation? If that is all that love is, indeed, what credit is that? Picking up the triplet noted earlier (vv 27, 30) of loving, doing good, and giving/lending, Jesus clarifies the distinction between the practices he advocates and those symptomatic of the larger Mediterranean world. Jesus is asking the listeners to put aside the cycle of obligation, so that reactions are not predetermined by what one owes to whom, nor by what one expects to receive from another. In doing so, there is now the possibility of a new dynamic wherein love of enemy is possible.

In v.35 ff Jesus repeats the triplet of love, doing good, and lending/giving as challenges the listener to exercise all three action freely, without obligation, and without the expectation of return. He is advocating an inversion of the social norms in order to establish a new people, a new family on different ethic and calling. What is the motivation? “…expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” Note that this still “something given in return” but not from the act of one’s beneficial act or the gratitude of the recipient, rather, it is God who rewards them. In a new way, God become the great benefactor and protector, but not it a contractual manner – but in a covenantal way. It is not an exchange of goods or services or favor, but a giving of oneself wholly to the other even as the other gives one wholly to you.

God, in Jesus, has given God’s self wholly to the human race, even to those who, by  their ingratitude and wickedness, portray themselves as his enemies. Just as God is merciful—that is, just as God is active graciously and creatively to bring redemption—so should his children be merciful. Hence, the critical value is not reciprocity but behavior rooted in the imitation of God.

37 “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. 38 Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The dynamic of love, doing good, and lending/giving asserted in v.35 is now fleshed out. Jesus’ followers are to behave in certain ways toward others, and God will behave in seemingly symmetrical ways toward Jesus’ followers. The symmetry is only apparent, since v.38b borrows imagery from the marketplace to show the extravagant generosity of God, now compared to a merchant who is neither stingy nor fair to himself but excessively fills the measuring vessel. The practices Jesus outlines follow immediately and grow out of the practices of God (vv. 35–36). Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to “judge”—that is, to prejudge, to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies restated negatively. In an important sense, Jesus’ instructions are to refuse to act as those scribes and Pharisees had done in 5:27–32, as they calculated beforehand the status of those toll collectors and sinners and thereby excluded them from their circles of social interaction. By “forgive,” Jesus means “release” — that is, “release from obligations,” or “give, without expectation of return”; again, and throughout these two verses, Jesus states negatively what has been asserted previously. The one difference is that the reciprocity denied in vv.32–35 has been restored, with one telling exception. Jesus’ followers give freely, without dragging others and especially those in need into the quagmire of never-ending cycles of repayment and liability. And God will lavishly repay them.

God is to be our one and only patron – the one who gave us everything in his Son.


Sources

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. Print. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (271-275)

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004. 146–149.