Let's give no interest loans and be generous

An old, bold contrast to the Royal Commission into banking

There was a radically different financial system that existed long ago where you did not trade on certain days (think: complete ban on store trading one day a week) and interest was a boon.

In light of the findings of Australia’s Royal Commission into banking, I think we can learn from such a crazy and distinct system.

In our society today we have a deep need and reliance on others.

The financial system operating in biblical Israel, as outlined in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures), is this radically different and astonishingly useful example. Although living within the Israeli financial system did not have a set currency like the money we exchange today, and they lived in a less material time, there are still stark similarities.

To live within Israel was to live within a society where people relied heavily on each other. You loaned items rather than money to each other, and this was provisioned in the laws originally given by God to Moses. If you did require a loan you were thought to be desperate, destitute and truly and utterly needy. More so, if you lent to a fellow Israelite, you were to be merciful in not charging interest for anything that was loaned.

In our society today we have a deep need and reliance on others. Who among us can make our own clothes or grow our own food? We need others to survive materially. It was just like this for Israel, and yet, in the face of material need, they were commanded to function without requiting interest from one another.

Just consider for a minute – a nation where the citizens had been commanded by a holy and perfect God to operate with no interest amongst themselves. An instruction given by a God who knew it was possible.

In Jesus, this idea of mercy in lending is deeply sharpened to cut to the very soul. Looking at Matthew 6:1-4 reveals how we are to help the poor in secret. And if our “giving may be in secret”, how could a poor person repay us – when they know not where the money came from?

Earlier in Matthew (5:40-42), we read how willing we should be to give to our enemies – and how lavishly! In speaking elsewhere about love for enemies (Luke 6:27-36), Jesus not only endorses that we should give what we have to others but also to our enemies, without expecting repayment.

Knowing that Israel was an indication of what was to come in Jesus, there are two things to be learned. Firstly, no matter the time we live in, we are deeply reliant on the willingness of others to lend to us at differing points in time. In Israel there was an emphasis to care for the poor and needy. In this day and age, we need to realise the willingness that others exhibit in lending to us, whether it be a bank, family member or loan shark. Of course, the lending system that we live and operate in will have its flaws, no matter the time, place, people group.

But we know that back in ancient Israel’s day, and now, there were not always people willing to fulfil that role. It is never a right. Even in the midst of societal norms and expectations to lend to one another, there always needs to be someone willing to be that lender.

Lending should help us simply to live and to live simply.

Secondly, all persons realising how interconnected it is to live in society should see that we are called to generosity. When Jews lent to foreigners, the charging of interest was permitted – the careful observer will note that it is not, as such, mandated. Even outside their own people, Israel was given opportunities to be generous.

As the earlier verses from Matthew demonstrate, those who follow Jesus are called to look out for similar opportunities to be generous. But they also know the challenge to give without expecting repayment – from their enemies, of all people!

Finally, there is something else to keep in mind when being thankful when others show a willingness to loan and generous when we are called upon to be the loaning party.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15) The good life is not all about the size and quality of what you own, as the Royal Commission into banking has alarmingly brought to light.

Lending should help us simply to live and to live simply.

Hannah Weickhardt is a lecturer in economics at Alphacrucis College in Sydney.

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