One’s position in ancient world societies was primarily static and well established. This means that everyone knew exactly where he or she stood in society and knew who ranked above and below him or her on the social ladder.
For them, the greatest goal in life was “not to climb the socioeconomic ladder but to protect the status quo” (Strauss 164). Rightly serving those above them and demonstrating their authority over those who ranked below them allowed this status quo to be met.
This maintaining of society’s structure ties directly into the concept of patronage. A patronage system is one where “a patron or benefactor provides favors to a client of lower status,” usually in trade for the client’s support, loyalty, or work (Strauss 164). These patron-client relationships could be economic, political, or religious in nature and were a common practice and foundation for relationships across the entire Middle East.
One great example of the patronage system is found in the life of King Herod the Great. Although a king, Herod served as a client to his patron Caesar Augustus through his loyalty and financial support. Caesar Augustus, playing the part of the patron, provided the legions that allowed Herod to remain in power. Herod was also (at times) a patron to the leading Jewish priests due to his action in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and his provision of “resources for their synagogue communities” (Strauss 164).
In Luke 7 we read of a centurion’s slave being healed by Jesus in Capernaum. When the Jewish elders went before Jesus and pleaded for this miracle, they asserted that the centurion was worthy because he helped rebuild their temple. The centurion and the Jewish elders had a relationship under the guidelines of the patronage system and the elders were here honoring the favor they’d received.