Posted by David
It’s clear to me that one of the hardier roots to our present financial and economic problems is usury. The traditional arguments against usury are laid out in a variety of places on the web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usury), so I won’t go there today. I’m going to approach it from the point of promises and expectations.
To begin, let’s say you lend someone $1,000 to buy a car. He promises to pay you back and you expect him to do so. The keywords here are “expect” and “promise.” Not all lending requires one to have expectations and make promises. But in our example, notice that he is required to lie by promising to pay you back (he may or may not be able to pay you back). Secondly, you’re making him indebted to you through his promise and your expectation. For all practical purposes he is bound to you as a debt-slave, and it must be added that bondage goes both ways. On top of that, if you charge him interest, then you are binding him to you beyond the balance of the debt. Scales are fair when the sides are equally balanced. Usury unfairly weighs the scales.
You argue that say he delivers pizza with that car, then he’s made some money on that car of which you should have a cut. This may be true, but again, it’s about expectations. Work may create more wealth or it may not. He might need to get a new transmission and there goes all the profits. Work is not financially fruitful all of the time. Moreover, if we can’t expect someone to repay a debt, then we can’t expect him to pay the interest either.
Now if he doesn’t promise to pay you back, but just says that he’ll do his best, then he’s not lying. And if you truly don’t expect him to pay you back, then you’re not making him a debt-slave. But how often is that the case in our modern world? How often is this the case within our hearts? Not only do we expect to get our money back from the bank we lend it to, but we also expect interest as well.
Jesus explains how our hearts should be in regards to lending and borrowing.
Luke 6:35 says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great.”
However, if we read The Parable of the Ten Minas, doesn’t he tell us to do the opposite? Shouldn’t we expect a return from our debtors?
“Finally the master said to him, ‘Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'” – Luke 19:23
In the parables, we read what our hearts want to read, which is not always the truth of the story. Jesus is saying to lend freely, to lend our money, to lend our talents, to lend our lives, and when we do so, inevitably, there will be reward. We lend freely. We lend without bondage, “hoping for nothing again.” In fact, he’s also saying that if we don’t lend and instead horde, then our wealth, our talents and our lives will just stagnate and rot. (This is one reason, the whole survive the economic crisis buy gold sales pitch is so repulsive to me.)
I have money in the banks. My money is being lent out. But I pray that my heart is “hoping for nothing again” from it. It’s not really my money anyway, is it? Could I be so egocentric to think that any particular thing in this world is mine? On the other hand, could I be so detached to think that nothing is mine? My breath is mine for an instant; in me and out of me. If it sits too long in my lungs, it becomes poison.
Burying our talents and our gold may be poison, but so also is indebtedness. In the bondage of debt-slave and the master, the stagnating wealth becomes poison like high CO2 concentrations in the lungs. Instead of stagnating in one person’s lungs, it stagnates amongst two.
However, we must remember what happens when you try to hold your breath? It’s inevitable, you will breathe. The debt-bonds will also be broken. There was a remedy for the moneylender-debtor bondage in the Hebrew world and that was the Year of the Jubilee. Not only was this year good for the debtor, but it was also good for the moneylender. For bondage goes both ways. The moneylender and debtor are a single unit. They are bound by the breaths of promises and the covetous heart’s expectations. They are chained together in bondage.
As we see the injustice of debt and usury crashing our financial world around us, there might be a tendency to be afraid about what’s next. It’s just that we’re so used to living with stagnating air that we don’t know what it’s like to breathe anymore. But fear not, fresh air is coming. Here comes the Jubilee.