Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?
We often think of first century culture as primitive. I suppose if you measure by convenience or average annual income or technology, it was. In this verse from Jesus’ parable in Luke 19, He speaks in banking terms that seem familiar and even contemporary. Money in the bank, earning interest, money loaned charging interest, are the same now as they were then, right? Not exactly…..
in the bank, in Greek is epi trapezan. Trapezan comes from an older Greek word tetrapeza – teta, four and pous, foot. This word meant a four legged table. Our English word bank comes to us from a similar etymological path from our word bench. By the first century banks were an old institution. The banking practice dates back as far as 2,000 bc. In Israel, private banks and banks run by the various conquering governments existed, but by far the Citibank equivalent in Jesus time operated in the Temple and it’s officers and Board of Directors were priests. Priests even set the standard weight for the Temple shekel coin — you shall take five shekels apiece, per head; you shall take them in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs)… (Numbers 3:47)
This was necessary in part because many Jews of the Diaspora, the Hebrews who had scattered all over the Roman Empire, returned to the Temple at Jerusalem at least annually, and they brought with them their tithes and other offerings, carried as the currency issued by other governments. The temple money changers stood behind their four legged tables near the entrance to the Temple Mount and cashed in their pagan currency for the local temple approved currency. I’ve traveled to twenty countries, and in all of them today’s equivalent to the Temple banker’s table is the ATM. In nearly every country on earth, you can insert your US Debit card and withdraw money in the local currency. So, other than technology, banking seems very similar, right? Maybe not. Let’s review God’s rules for lending..
If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest.
What??? A zero per cent interest loan? That’s correct! God’s people were not permitted to charge God’s people interest. Making a loan was considered an act of generosity, a thing that a wealthy person would seek out the opportunity to do. Lenders saw their wealth as the blessing of God that they needed to use to bless others.
It gets better. The borrower would be expected to pay back as he was able. However, there were no thirty or twenty or even fifteen year mortgages… Just as every seventh day was a Sabbath rest, so every seventh year was a sabbatical year. Farmers left their land fallow (uncultivated) that year, and whatever grew on the land could not be harvested for their gain, but the poor were allowed to come harvest it. Also, all unpaid debts were forgiven that year. Everyone got a fresh start. Every loan balance was moved to zero. Can you imagine the joy you would have today if you went to your mailbox and found a letter from Bank of America’s mortgage division informing you that the remaining twenty three years of payments on your seven year old thirty year mortgage were simply forgiven, and your current balance due was zero? That would be a great day!
Banking in our day has no resemblance to banking as God revealed it to His chosen people. I am not writing this to criticize bankers, but to provoke our consideration of our view of “our” money. Let’s take this self test: If the next Sabbatical year began in a few weeks on March first, would you willingly lend money interest free to a poor Christian, knowing that God intended for you to forgive the debt in less than a month? Or the more fundamental question — What is yours? What belongs to you and what is simply the blessing of God in your life? Just as our banking system has evolved a different character in our culture, so has our blessing system.
Just before Christmas, a Christian friend called to tell me about a prayer he had prayed and God had answered. He’s far from a rich man. He’s retired and he and his wife still both work part time to make ends meet. Yet he prayed to God this simple prayer – God, I don’t want nothin’ for me this Christmas, I just want you to show me someone I can bless. Our loving God heard that prayer and responded. My friend called me as he traveled to the home a few days later of a struggling family with three kids to deliver from God (from what was His all along) to this family in need. He choked back tears as he told me that he – felt so good inside he thought he was about to bust wide open.
That feeling can never be gained by hoarding or by holding a contemporary usurian mindset. God’s instructions always bless in every direction. Do you seek opportunities to bless others? Are you God’s steward of your wealth, or the owner? Are you praying for an opportunity to give away some of what you have accumulated, or do you look the other way when needs appear?
Luke 6:30 – Give to everyone who asks.