Original Research - Special Collection: Africa Platform for NT Scholars

Ancient patronage: A possible interpretative context for Luke 18:18–23?

Kingsley I. Uwaegbute, Damian O. Odo
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 1 | a6427 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i1.6427 | © 2021 Kingsley I. Uwaegbute, Damian O. Odo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 December 2020 | Published: 01 July 2021

About the author(s)

Kingsley I. Uwaegbute, Department of Religion and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria; Department of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Damian O. Odo, Department of Religion and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria; Department of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Against the conventional reading of Luke 18:18–23 as a micro-narrative that revolves around discipleship and the dangers of wealth with regard to inheriting the Kingdom of God, this article reads the text using patronage (and clientism) as a model. It argues that this micro-narrative also mirrors patronal relations in the 1st-century Roman Palestine through which a few elites exploited the majority poor. The description of the chief protagonist in the narrative as a ruler, who was also rich, by Luke casts him in a negative light as a patron who exploited the poor around him who were his clients. From this standpoint, it is therefore argued in the article that the strategy of the narrative is to encourage patrons to move from negative and balanced reciprocity to ‘general reciprocity’ in which giving to the poor without the desire to receive back dominates. This interpretation is still within the framework of the theology of wealth in the Gospel of Luke, which encourages ‘giving without the expectation to receive back’.

Contribution: This article argues that the micro-narrative of Luke 18:18–23 mirrors patronal relations of 1st-century Palestine. From Luke’s description of rich ruler, the first hearers of Luke probably thought of him as a patron who exploited his clients, the poor. The call by Jesus to self-divesture therefore is a call for patrons to move beyond negative and balanced reciprocity to practice general reciprocity in which giving to the poor, without the want to receive back, dominates; this is social-scientific criticism of Luke 18:18–23 mostly neglected in Lukan scholarship.


Keywords

Luke 18:18–23; patronage/clientism; exploitation; Jesus; general reciprocity; wealth ethics

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