Jerry Bowyer Christian Blog and Commentary

Did Jesus' Disciples Boycott Sinful Businesses Or Engage With Them?

  • Jerry Bowyer Chief Economist of Vident Financial, Editor of Townhall Finance, and President of Bowyer Research
  • Published Mar 19, 2020

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.