Love and Patronage

This coming Sunday is the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time in which we are reading the second part of the “Sermon on the Plains” that began in Luke 6:17. In yesterday’s post we considered the “golden rule,” patronage, and the law of retaliation. How will the wisdom of love called for by Jesus operate in such a milieu?

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 others (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 the enemy is possible.

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