Saturday, August 16, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 8)

A more minor example, in which nearly all would be able to engage and which would be instrumental in its application in an era and an area in which one’s daily food was a constant concern and in which debt and debt slavery were extraordinarily pressing and very real problems, would be something like the brother-directed insistence that “You must not lend money at interest and you must not sell him food for profit” (Leviticus 25:37). 

The need to borrow is here wrapped up with the need to purchase food, so the directive takes aim at capitalizing on misfortune in the area of life’s basic necessities, and doing so in such a way that increases the likelihood that slavery will result.  This is not a blanket statement, insisting that it is wrong to sell food or anything else for profit or that it is even necessarily wrong to charge interest, as the prohibition against charging interest is definitively linked to a brother’s ability to obtain the necessities of life (he’s not buying a new laptop or a car).  Surely, it is possible to differentiate between charging interest for that which is not wholly necessary, with ideas about that which is wholly necessary complicated by modern day cultures that are bent on acquisition and the portrayal of all things as needs. 

However, one must note that in this section of Leviticus the prohibition is provided context by “If your brother becomes impoverished and is indebted to you, you must support him… Do not take interest or profit from him, but you must fear your God and your brother must live with you” (25:35a,36).  This does not deny that some would be wealthier than others, nor does it offer up a value judgment on the mere fact or presence of wealth (wealth defined as the excess of what is needed), but it does have an underlying message that the Creator God’s people are to be conscientious of the plight of their brothers and to be ready to have their hand out to make ready assistance, though this is a matter for another dissertation. 

It would be far easier, in a manner of speaking, for Christians of the first century (and for Christians of the twenty-first century who live outside of the remarkably affluent western world) to relate to these words from Leviticus, and to engage in such activity as part of their call to be benefactors for their communities.  Imagine what would be stirred by a person, operating in the marketplace during times of scarcity and need, who, seeing all as brothers and potential brothers within the always advancing kingdom of the covenant God, sold his food at no profit to himself. 

What if that person, acting counter to the supply and demand equation in that time of scarcity, which would naturally see prices for scarce items rise, actually began selling sustenance items at below his own cost, so as to bring down the cost (at least temporarily, as that person would quickly exhaust his own supply and be unable to restock, having sold his inventory at a loss)?  What if that person did so as an obvious sacrifice on his or her part, and did so as a conscientious actor for the kingdom of God?  Would that not be a monumental display of costly love?  Would that not be living out the cross?  Would that not be the power of the resurrection and the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) at work?  Again, this is not meant to be applied at all times, as it is unsustainable in practice, but it does inform the body of Christ of its need to engage with the world at multiple levels, as the kingdom of the Creator God invades every aspect of life, never saying “I go here and no further.” 

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