Just a few weeks ago we talked about the Good Samaritan. We mentioned that he left “two denarii” to care for the injured man. So he was generous, we say, and move right along, missing just how generous he was. Put it into our language. A denarius was a day’s wage for a skilled laborer—not an untrained ditch digger, but someone like a mason, or a welder, or a carpenter or plumber. Now think in your mind, how much an hour do those people make nowadays? What would that be for two days’ labor today? Relatively speaking, that’s how much the Samaritan left for a perfect stranger, and one who was his enemy at that. Would we do that for, say, a Muslim we encountered in need?
Here’s another one for you. The early church sold property to provide for the needs of those who had come only for the feast and wound up staying far beyond that, with no work, no place to stay, no way to provide for their families. Obviously those in Jerusalem did not sell the houses they lived in. That would have exacerbated the problem with more homeless people. But if they had another piece of property outside town, or maybe some rental property on the other side or even down the street, that’s what they sold. Have you priced houses and acreage lately? We are talking tens of thousands, maybe over a hundred thousand in our day, and the cost of living in their time would have made it relatively the same amount. These were not paltry gifts. Now you understand a little better the temptation that Ananias and Sapphira gave in to. And doesn’t that make that instant excuse we fall back on so often when even a small need arises, “I have to be a good steward of my money,” just a little ridiculous?
Sometimes we need to understand the culture in relation to people. Young men were expected to be mature enough to begin a family and support that family with an occupation by the time they were in their mid-teens. Young women were expected to marry at puberty and begin raising a family immediately. John MacArthur says that girls in first century Palestine entered the betrothal (kiddushin) at 13 and married at 14. Young people were expected to understand making a lifetime commitment well before we expect that of our own children. Make it real: 13 back then was more like 19 or 20 now in regard to maturity. Think about that before you begin pressing your child about baptism before he is even out of grade school. Don’t make it a contest to see whose child is baptized first.
A book of the customs of Bible times is an excellent investment. When we do not know those customs we miss the bravery of women like the one in Luke 7. The fact that she even got into the house to see Jesus took guts and what could have happened to her and been condoned by those in charge will fill you with shame at the times you have cowered in the back corner instead of admitting your faith. How about the blind man in John 9? Do you know what it meant to be cast out of the synagogue? It meant no social and no business life—and that meant poverty. And here he was just now able to have a normal life for the first time since his birth and he sacrifices it all when he puts those rulers in their place with the statement, “Here is the amazing thing—he made me see and yet you do not know where he came from.”
When you make these things real, when you make them relate to something you actually know and experience, the application to your own life will become real as well. In fact, it may hurt a little more. It may hurt a lot more. Maybe that’s why we don’t do it.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:4