Thursday, July 16, 2015

Debt and repentance

In the course of our studies in Luke at LPO this week we have had cause to mention debt (that's because Jesus talked quite a lot about it). It is, of course, impossible to raise the issue of debt without talking about Greece and the current bail-out plan and what Jesus' parable of the two debtors might have to say about it.

In after session conversations it has become that several Dutch guests are very hawkish on this issue. The Greeks need to pay back every Euro. There is recognition that maybe the Greek people are not to blame for previous government action, but in order to apply the teaching of Jesus, there needs to be repentance before there can be forgiveness.

I've never been sure that this is how it works with Jesus. The Kingdom comes to us, wraps us up in its embrace, carries us off into a new adventure with God, so we repent (change our minds about our way of living and change our direction of travel so that we go the way Jesus is going).

But at a deeper and more thoroughly biblical level, I don't think that can have been what Jesus had in mind. He grew up in a biblical tradition of Jubilee where debts were written-off every seven years and after fifty years land and assets were restored to their original owners. So I think in declaring jubilee in Luke 4 ( since he uses a jubilee text from Isaiah 61 to launch his public ministry in his home town). Jesus was declaring  that debts would be written off and the poor get back what had been expropriated by others. Hence his declaration in Luke 6 that the poor are blessed and that the rich are not (something he might have learned from his mother given the content of her song in chapter 1).

Of course, this does not solve the Greek problem. But it does give an interesting theological angle to it that maybe the people of faith across the continent of Europe could be expressing at least as a way of generating a broader debate than that favoured by the bankers.

Oh and while we're at it, why are the bankers who helped previous Greek governments hide their debts and rich Greeks avoid paying anything into the Greek economy by way of taxes, not having to pay off some of the debts thereby incurred by the hapless Greeks? Actually, why aren't any of them in prison for fraud and false accounting?

Does the teaching of Luke's gospel have anything to say about this? I think it probably does....

1 comment:

Trevor Neill said...

Thanks Simon, some really interesting reflections, as ever. We’re currently studying Luke’s Gospel in church so that there was a particular resonance for me in what you’ve written.

It seems to me that one of the most shameful aspects of the current debate on Greece and debt has been Germany’s failure to remember the debt relief granted to it after World War 2: It’s such a shocking example of a failure to show unto others the mercy which has been shown unto them, about which Jesus had a few things to say…