Financial giving, discipleship and power

I have to admit that I find Professor Joel Green’s reading of Luke’s Gospel exceptionally useful. In his The Theology of the Gospel of Luke (Cambridge: CUP, 1995), there is a really helpful analysis of discipleship and the kingdom of God in Luke. Here are some excerpts.

[E]conomic sharing was embedded in social relations. To share with someone without expectation of return was to treat them as though they were kin, family. Conversely, to refuse to share with others was tantamount to relating to them as though they were outside one’s community. (p. 114)

In such a context, “almsgiving” cannot be understood according to modern lexicons as “charity” or “missionary giving.” Rather, giving to the poor was a signifier of social relations with the poor. For this reasons, the Pharisees and scribes are soundly reprimanded for practise of non-sharing practices that give way to acts of greed and wickedness (11:39–41; 20:46-47) … (p. 114; emphasis added)

[I]n insisting that giving takes place in a context where one retains no expectation of return, Jesus strikes at the root of one of the most prevalent models of friendship in antiquity, the patron-client relationship. In this environment, a potential patron possessed some commodity required by a client. In exchange, the client would provide appropriate expressions of honor and loyalty to the patron. The point is that, having received patronage, the client now existed in a state of obligation, of debt. The possibilities for exploitation and the exercise of controlling, coercive power are high. (pp. 114–5)

In each case, those whose goodness grows out of the system of patronage — give to those who give to you, in order to build up a series of claims over others — are said to be no better than sinners. Jesus thus challenges his listeners not to act like outsiders, but like God’s people. In doing so, he urges them to refuse the coercive, control-dominated system of relationships characteristic of the wider world. (p. 115)

Luke’s material on the rich and poor, then, is woven into a larger fabric than talk of money and treasure might at first suggest. Wealth is intricately spun together with issues of status, power, and social privilege. For this reason it cannot remain long outside the purview of the gospel. Entry into the way of discipleship raises immediately the question of possessions, with Luke calling for an economic redistribution in which the needy are cared for and the wealthy give without expectation of return. (pp. 116–7; emphasis added)

The message of Jesus in Luke violates the sacred political order of the Roman world. What is more, it does so on the basis of a clash of kings and kingdoms. Luke has consistently presented Jesus as Son of God, God’s own agent, whose life and message embodies God’s own purpose. (pp. 120–1)

The new community being established by Jesus is thus counter-cultural in the deepest sense. Their practices as a community, if they are to follow Jesus, would deviate radically from the Roman ethic and disavow its divine origin. Importantly, this denunciation of Rome is not characterized by violence, according to Luke’s theology. To take up arms, to exert coercive force, would be to adopt a style of life consistent with the Roman way, not with the way of this new kingdom breaking into the world. (p. 121)

Joel Green theology of Luke

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