In the previous post, I shared what Luke recorded Jesus saying at the last supper.
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.
Matthew (20:25) and Mark (10:42) record Jesus having similar conversations with his followers. In those dialogues, he uses the terms “rulers of the Gentiles” and “their high officials.”
While we likely have a solid grasp on kings, rulers, and high officials, even if we aren’t familiar with all of the intricacies, benefactor deserves a bit more explanation.
When we hear the word today, we generally think of someone who gives their backing, often financially, to support someone or something. For example, a patron of the arts is a benefactor.
What is Wrong with Benefactors?
Benefactors sound great, don’t they? So why wouldn’t Jesus want his followers to act like benefactors? Wouldn’t Jesus be encouraging generosity?
To look at this, let’s go a bit further back in Luke, where we see people working on behalf of a benefactor.
Jesus enters Capernaum, and we read this starting in Luke 7:2
There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them.Luke 7:2-6
So a centurion in Capernaum had built a synagogue, and some of the leading Jews of the city come forward to speak to Jesus on behalf of him and his ailing servant.
“He deserves to have you do this.”
Again, from our vantage point, this seems excellent. The Roman Centurion did something good for them. They do something good for him.
Except…while they may have appreciated the synagogue, they went to Jesus because this patronage system obligated the recipients to repay the benefactor’s generosity.
When benefactors gave, a return was most definitely expected.
While the recipients of this patronage could never repay financially, what they could provide was respect, status, and privilege. And that is what benefactors desired.
Go back to the last supper. Why did Jesus bring up benefactors in this setting? There had been an argument regarding which of the apostles would be the greatest in terms of status, respect, privilege and power in this new kingdom.
Leadership in Jesus’ kingdom would not simply reject lording authority over others. It would likewise reject the seeking of status and privilege.
So if benefactor wasn’t the way forward, what was?
Immediately before this encounter in Capernaum, Jesus teaches, and in this sermon, he describes two economies.
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “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 are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.Luke 6:30-36
36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
One economy Jesus describes is the one most of us are used to. I lend money to you, and the expectation is you will pay me back.
I help you out, and the expectation is, when I need it, you will help me.
That’s the economy we usually operate in.
The second economy evident in this passage was one based on kinship. You don’t give to your spouse or child and expect a return. You give because your relationship is based on love. Repayment is unnecessary.
And in Luke 22, Jesus makes it explicit to his followers that the economy they are to live within was the second. They were not to give in order so that prestige and status would be given to them. They were to give not for status and power but because of love.
As we’ll see going forward, status and power fit together like hand and glove.