During our stay in Montreal, we were able to attend part of the Montréal First Peoples Festival. The above photo was taken during the August 4 concert by Digging Roots. Some of their songs evoke the same themes of oppression, justice, and liberation that the Lukan Jesus proclaims (e.g., Luke 4:16-21).
The last post described such things as the "subsistence ethic" of "peasants" (not the best term to describe first-century non-elites, but the most common one) and patronage. This post will begin to explore how the narrative of Luke
expects the elite in ancient society to live (which explains how evil the rich man in this parable actually was envisioned):
Interpersonal social interaction in the narrative of
Luke occurs on a continuum of reciprocity ranging from those exchanges
based on altruism to those based on self-interest. There are three main
categories of reciprocal exchanges:
1) Generalized reciprocity: An open sharing founded on altruism, which
focuses completely on the needs of the other person. Assistance is given
without a specific obligation to return the favor (e.g., family relationships).
2) Balanced reciprocity:
An exchange based on the common interests of the two parties. Social norms
judge the gifts to be equivalent; there is a symmetrical quid-pro-quo agreement
(e.g., exchange of goods or services).
3) Negative reciprocity:
An exchange of pure self-interest in which one party attempts to receive from
another without giving anything in return (e.g., lying, cheating, or theft).
Such behavior is acceptable in an agonistic society when one is dealing with
strangers. No ongoing social relationship occurs (see Gowler, "Hospitality and Characterization in Luke 11:37-54,"
The rich man—because he reflects the characterization of the
Pharisees in 11:37-44 and 16:14—operates from a system of negative reciprocity.
Rapacity drives the speech and actions of such elites, and Jesus' command to
give alms calls for a radical shift in their perspective. No longer are the
"lovers of money" to operate in the mode of exchange that involves
negative reciprocity; Jesus requires them to participate in almsgiving—vertical
generalized reciprocity—a redistribution from the advantaged to the
disadvantaged that expects nothing in return (Moxnes, Economy, 127-8).
Luke 11:11-12 gives an example of generalized reciprocity in
a familial setting, and Luke 14:21-23 is an example of generalized reciprocity
in a meal setting. Since God—the referent in both cases—showers humankind with
vertical generalized reciprocity, humankind should follow God's lead in their
relationships with each other (See Jerome
Neyrey, "Ceremonies in Luke-Acts," in The Social World of
Jesus makes this point in the meal scene in 14:12-14, where
he advises the elite not to engage merely in balanced reciprocity. Such elite
invite friends, brothers, kinsmen, and rich neighbors to their feasts (14:12).
Jesus advises them instead to invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind
(vertical generalized reciprocity). Luke 16:14 will add another building block
in this portrayal, because lovers of money do not operate from Jesus'
perspective of vertical generalized reciprocity. The elites' concern for money
is balanced by their lack of concern for human beings, a point made
excruciatingly clear by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Unrighteous
mammon can only be gained at the expense of God's commandment to love one's
neighbor (J. Duncan Derrett, Law in
the New Testament, 80-82), and
the connection between riches and unrighteousness can only be broken through
vertical generalized reciprocity (e.g., almsgiving, Luke 14:13-14; 16:9).
the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, though, the redistribution of goods from the elite to the
non-elite does not take place, and the rich man symbolizes a recalcitrant
idolater who worships material possessions.
The cultural script of honor and shame plays a role here as
well. Honor, in the broadest sense of the word, is compliance with traditional
patterns of behavior. Thus honor, in
this sense, is nearly identical with "goodness" or
"virtue." A man of honor is a virtuous man, with honor being attained
and maintained by conformity to prevailing cultural norms. What Jesus does in
Luke, however, is to transform those cultural norms in a way that insists that
the elite operate from a system of vertical generalized reciprocity. The
crucial test for any character is whether or not he or she accepts Jesus'
authority as Lord and then begins to live accordingly. The rich man,
with his rejection of Moses and the prophets and his failure to operate from a
stance of vertical generalized reciprocity, fails this test.
I'll write more about first-century cultural aspects that influence our reading of the parable (e.g., purity rules) in my next post.
I will conclude this post, though, with another photo about First Peoples and Montreal. Below is a photo of one of the many striking murals that you find on the sides of buildings in Montreal.
I also highly recommend the First Peoples Gardens in the Montreal Botanic Gardens, by the way.