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Jerry Bowyer Christian Blog and Commentary

Jerry Bowyer

Chief Economist of Vident Financial, Editor of Townhall Finance, and President of Bowyer Research

In this series so far, we have seen that the clearly-discernible pattern in Jesus' social dealings, including those which offer material gain, is to move freely among sinners, to engage with them in socially intimate settings and manners, to benefit from His association with them, to be grumbled against not just for association but for the benefits received in accordance with rabinnical tradition, and to show by His words and actions that He does not share their conception of the nature of holiness and contagion.

We are told in Scripture to imitate Jesus, but some might argue that this is not an area in which we should imitate Him, perhaps due to His divine nature or sinlessness (neither of which we share). It is relevant, therefore, to see if Jesus' disciples also operate in a manner similar to His. It appears that they do. Not only Jesus personally, but His company of followers received financial support that came from a highly corrupt source.

And it came about soon afterwards, that He began going about from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God; and the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

Luke 8:1-3 NAS

Let's be clear who Herod was. He was the murderer of John the Baptist, the greatest of prophets before Christ. He used an illegal semi-incestuous marriage to consolidate power, for which John had publicly rebuked him. He set out to murder Jesus (which the Pharisees warned Jesus about), and Jesus, in response, offered an insult calling Herod 'that fox (or perhaps jackal)'. He was a vicious, sexually debauched, unprincipled (Jesus called him 'a reed blowing in the wind') dictator. And via his steward, Chuza, Jesus received Herod's ill-gotten gains, and so did his disciples.

But some might argue that the disciples' receiving support from Chuza was only permissible because Jesus was there. In other words, Jesus maybe got the support and then distributed it to his disciples (unlikely, given that Judas kept the common purse). Maybe only then could the disciples share in such ill-gotten gains without bringing sin onto themselves.

I'm afraid that will not work. Jesus sent the seventy into the world, out from under His direct supervision, with explicit instructions not to bring financial resources, but rather to depend on the patronage of others.

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. "Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. "Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. "And whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house.' "And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, it will return to you. "And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.

Luke 10:1-7 NAS

Please note that the only condition for this patronage arrangement is that the peace which they offer rests upon them rather than returning. In other words, the patron shows that he is a man of peace by accepting the peace offered. No condition is placed in terms of ritual status, religious status or moral status. No condition is imposed regarding the source of the income. Ill-gotten gains are not the same thing as ill-given gains.

Jesus explicitly recognizes that this is an economic transaction in citing the Levitical principle (later cited by Paul in regards to pastoral salaries) that the 'laborer is worthy of his wages'. These are wages. Jesus also appears to recognize the financial patronage nature, in what appears to be a contrast with other forms of ancient patronage in which philosophers would 'trade up' in terms of household patronage. The disciples are forbidden that form of advancement - they must stay with their original patron.

As we've seen heretofore in this series (herehere, and here), The Pharisees and the scribes which they employed attacked Jesus repeatedly for violating their understanding of unholiness via social engagement with sinners. They saw someone who benefited economically from a person who had gotten money corruptly as participating in, or being otherwise tainted by, the sinful way in which the money was made. This is an example of one of the teachings of the elders. It is not something taught in the Torah directly, but interpreted from it. This practice of adding commandments is something which Jesus sees as emblematic of the Pharisee/scribe coalition.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'…

Mark 7:1-7 NAS

Jesus, on the other hand, has a very different approach to social exchange, material benefits and holiness. He inverts their holiness concept, arguing that it is not what is in-coming (income) or received which conveys defilement, but rather what is out-going.

…there is nothing outside the which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man….

And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.“ For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. "All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." 

Mark 7:15, 18-23 NAS

A perfect example of this principle is shown dramatically in the incident with the woman who had a hemorrhage:

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him, and touched the fringe of His cloak; and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, "Who is the one who touched Me?" And while they were all denying it, Peter said, "Master, the multitudes are crowding and pressing upon You." But Jesus said, "Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me

Luke 8:43-46, 48-49 NAS

Note that under the traditional understanding she would have rendered Jesus unclean, and perhaps even the whole crowd. But in this case she is made whole. Note the direction, the vector, of power. Instead of her uncleanness being contagious, His cleanliness is. Even though something is flowing out of her in an unclean and unhealthy way, what flows out of Him is what determines the outcome. Power goes out of him. While the temple could be defiled by what is brought into it, Jesus, the true and final temple, cannot. Out of Him flows life. As the title of Craig Blomberg's book puts it, Jesus possessed 'Contagious Holiness.'

It is noteworthy that immediately following this, Jesus will be called upon to deal directly with the corpse of a young woman, and will once again show that the flow of power is from Him outwards into the uncleanliness of death, rather than the other way around.

In our ongoing series about Jesus' model for economic engagement during His earthly ministry, we look next at the encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. Here's Luke's description:

And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; and he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich…

…when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly. And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke  19:2, 5-10 NAS

We see the (by now) very familiar pattern: Jesus hangs out with recognized sinners. These sinner really are sinners. Jesus accepts material support, gifts and/or patronage. Critics grumble. The sinner is restored.

Note, by the way, that it is Jesus alone who is described as seeking this invitation. 'I must stay at your house' is not 'we must stay at your house'.  Zaccheus 'received Him', not 'received them'. In other words, the text suggests that Jesus' disciples were not compelled to go so far out of their comfort zone as to dine with this arch-sinner. The grumblers accused Jesus and His disciples 'Why do you (pl.) eat and drink with sinners…'.  (Lk. 5:30) Apparently, eating with ordinary tax collectors when they are part of a broad banquet is something the disciples can handle, but eating at the home of a chief of the system is too much.

Let's get a bit deeper on the matter of patronage. The word used to describe Jesus being 'received' is explained here:

The verb for welcome (v. 2) is prosdechomai, which may denote more than simply entertaining guests. Elsewhere it is used in context of financial provision and social honour (cf. Rom. 16:2 and Phil. 2:29; so Marshall 1978: 599).

Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 150). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Often those received would get all their meals, a roof over their heads, perhaps some financial provision while there, and traveling money afterwards. It's more than a quick lunch together.

This explains the crowd's objection to some degree. They are likely following the pharisaical teachings that benefiting from the wealth of a publican makes one also guilty.

The crowd, however, interprets the scene in diametrically opposite fashion (v. 7), for, from their perspective, 'to stay in such a person's home was tantamount to sharing in his sin' (Marshall 1978: 697).

Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 153). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Why does the sin transfer from the ill-getter of the gain to the secondary recipient? Because the wealth itself is seen as tainted, not just the deed by which it is gotten.

Whereas the crowds see Jesus accepting the hospitality of a man whose wealth is ill-gotten as becoming a partner with him in his crimes (Derrett 1970: 281–282), Jesus believes that godly character and righteous living can be modelled and have a positive impact by rubbing off on others as they commit to change their ways.

Blomberg, Craig L.. Contagious Holiness (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (p. 157). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition. 

Once again we see that with the coming of God in the flesh, it is righteousness which is 'catching', not sin. Jesus is infectious to those whom He touches, not the other way around.

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