Saturday, 15 September 2012
The last part of Matthew 5, in verse 42, Jesus is saying we should loan to anyone who wants. In today’s world, we loan with interest -- at least in the US. But in the time and place Jesus walked, loaning and/or borrowing had a whole different meaning.
It was pointed out to me by an old Rabbi that, in the world of the mid-East, there were only an extreme few rich, virtually no middle class and a sea full of poor. In their world, to ask to borrow was two different realities. One was to borrow something that could be returned after replenishing, such as sugar or money. Borrowing an item such as a donkey or a team of oxen, that would be normal as it would be used for a short time then returned. And not everyone had a donkey or some oxen. Look, for example, in Deuteronomy 15:7-8; “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.” One translation reads “tightfisted” in place of “shut your hand.” It means the same thing.
In the land of Israel, loans were a way out, at least temporarily, of poverty’s grip. One could borrow not just out of desire but of necessity -- to help get something done. These people were community oriented. Many a poor man borrowed what he could not afford and no one looked down on him. Rather, according to the Law, he had not just the right but the privilege and opportunity of borrowing to help the community and his family. But Jesus takes the act further. If the borrower can’t or will not repay, give it to him.
I remember being “instructed” about my loaning to a Seattle neighbor. The man borrowed something -- I don’t remember what -- and he didn’t even offer to repay. I asked him a couple of times, and he was very evasive about it. Shortly after my asking for the item the second time, I got the distinct feeling that I was to give him the item. The “reasoning” seemed to be: I ask and he dances around a direct answer (he would have made a good politician). His “dancing” was, in reality, lying. So, in an effort to keep him from lying, I should just give the item to him.
I was directed to Romans 14:21; “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” It may seem as though the scripture was being stretched, but to me, it made sense. The “nor do anything” was my asking, knowing he would lie. I simply gave it to him, told him I did, stopped asking and prayed for him. Don’t know if he ever repented or not. Shortly after that, we moved to Texas.
When have you given something and expected it to be returned? Was it returned? When has something you've loaned not been repaid? Have you ever borrowed something without returning it?