Last week or the week before I was reading the lessons for the Daily Office and there it was; “You shall not charge interest rates.” A plain and simple prescription in the midst of dietary laws and sexual taboos, gone the way of fabric separation and keeping kosher foods, and I am sort of sad about that. Because so much of the evil, the sinfulness, the treating each other as objects and means to an end, all that comes fr m the idea that we can make profits from one another. It is pretty deeply embedded in everything from our scales of productivity to why and how we assign value to anyone and anything.
In this civilization, at least as lately introduced, we need to make profits, interest, from one another. That’s the bottom line today; we are of interest to one another. The Christian religion makes an economic image one of its central tenets; someone redeeming a broken contract, Christ paid the price of your sinfulness. Jesus takes the charge, picks up the check, on your behalf. It’s his shout, to use the Australian term. In modern economics, he adds value to the product, at least if we are products, and many of us are thinking of ourselves as that.
A lot of popular theology has that element to it as well. We follow Jesus to be better, he makes us whole, adds value to the package. He comes into our brokenness and either fixes us up or restores us back to where we used to be, or up to where we should be: makes us worthy of God. I believe that there is some truth there, however awkwardly the terms might seem in present usage, But there is this thread of adding interest and value, sort of a world-sized self-improvement to it all, that makes Jesus into a kind of cosmic DIY guy who’s fixing it all up to please his absent father, and that saddens me.
Because at the centre of the message that I get from the scripture and tradition is this; we are met, greeted, connected up, found and brought home, even before we get too interesting, even before we have an adequate theory of being lost. That’s the heart of the Gospel for me. God, or the man Jesus, or this inconceivably intimate and cosmic love known as the “spirit,”\ meets us face to face, like the eager father in the story of the prodigal son. She or he’s right there, in our face, first; even before we have put out our rehearsed speech, our canned repentance, our nicely phrased need to articulate that we have strayed from some path and lost our idea of a way – whether a way of self-righteousness, justification, even enough freedom or whatever it may be. Even before – as Eliot puts it: we have “a face to meet the faces that we meet.” He meets us face to face and knows us to be a friend, a child, a whole and counted member of the family. All that before we speak a word.
So, what if we were OK even if we raise interest? What if we didn’t have to buy into any particular theological or historical or economic model? What if God just met us on the way, without any of us having to resort to legalisms of bookkeeping or grace, and welcomed us home? That would be a grace that would be worthy of the name.