Pay It Forward

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time


We might occasionally invite friends out to dinner or to our homes for a meal. It is a widely acceptable way to nurture friendship and share our blessings. And we can get together as often as we choose, sharing a meal, or drinks, or just hanging out and shooting the breeze. We also might casually invite random people we just met to visit us after enjoying their company while on vacation. I know I’ve invited people to come visit southwest Virginia when I was in Australia and New Zealand a month ago, and I meant it every single time. Now we might not mean what we say literally, but our tone is meant to convey genuine gratitude and a willingness to return any kindness shown to us. We are familiar with polite-speak. It doesn’t take long to figure out whether or not an invitation is serious. Until we get to know people better, we like to keep a safe distance while trying still to be warm and friendly. We smile and shake hands, extend a polite greeting, mention the weather. A first move is not likely an invitation to dinner.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tries to turn our comfortable way of life upside-down. “When you are invited to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor.” Now we all know that the guests of honor at a wedding banquet are the bride and groom, and after them, their family and closest friends. You may be the center of your own personal universe and all other galaxies, stars, and planets revolve around you. But Jesus suggests we step back and make room for others more deserving of notice and honor. Humility is that virtue by which one recognizes the truth about oneself and goes about without pretense or shame. Those secure in the way they see themselves are not offended when they go unnoticed or when no appreciation comes their way. But Jesus suggesting we take the lowest place just so we can be invited up higher in full view of our rivals is a truly perfect narcissist move. Maybe he said it with just a tinge of sarcasm. But the gospel account doesn’t offer us that detail.

And turning to his host, he said, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors …  Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Jesus suggests we not invite those who can return the kindness, and instead invite those who would find difficulty inviting us back. Of course, he didn’t mean we shouldn’t have friends over for dinner every once in a while. But he draws our attention to those to whom we extend kindness. To what purpose do we extend kindness, compassion, and welcome if our primary motive is so others return the favor? There has got to be a noticeable difference between those who claim to be disciples of Jesus and everyone else.

In the sermon on the plain (Luke 6: 27—35), after challenging his listeners to disregard conventional wisdom and love their enemies, Jesus adds, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” It appears we are called to be better than sinners. So, we are kind, compassionate, and welcoming because God is all that to us.

It’s not really about inviting homeless people to Thanksgiving dinner, or maybe it is. Yet it’s not even about dinner invitations at all. Rather it’s about encountering God in those who easily repulse us and those with whom we are not inclined to share our blessings. We can probably name a few. It’s about acknowledging how God has favored us in truly wonderful ways, undeserving and ungrateful though we be. We have been blessed with selfless parents and loving families. We have had wonderful teachers and dependable friends. We have material possessions, sometimes more than we really need. And despite being so blessed, God needs nothing back from us to settle the score. Instead, all God has shared with us cannot be ours to keep. God was generous and merciful to us when we were nothing and had nothing. It only makes sense we pay it all forward to those who cannot return the favor.

“Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful,” Jesus tells his listeners in Luke’s sermon on the plain (6: 36). It’s about nothing less than being to others as God is to us. It’s about doing for others what God has done and continues to do for us. God has no need of our kindness. God has no need of our good deeds. But there are people around us who would be honored to be invited to dinner, who could use a kind word, a little more patience, forgiveness, and compassion, and who have nothing to give us in return. Jesus sends us to those on the margins to keep us focused, humble, and grounded in reality.

Christian hospitality is never about what others can give us. It is rather about what we have received from God’s generous and abundant mercy, and how we need to pay it forward.

Rolo B Castillo © 2022

%d bloggers like this: