Thoughts on the Gospel
for the Twenty-second Sunday
in Ordinary Time

Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:13–14

Therefore when thou dost an almsdeed,
sound not a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,
that they may be honoured by men.
Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.
Matthew 6:2

There is an entirely unexceptional range of human interactions that assume a certain reciprocity. If you invited me to a pleasurable dinner with friends we share, be certain I will invite you to a similarly pleasurable occasion soon. If you have underwritten the charity dinner, it is expected that generous reference will be made to your gift in the program and that you will be thanked fulsomely from the platform.

These are natural relations between friends. They will endure while human nature lasts. And indeed favor-exchanging is one of the signs of our humanity. Gratitude is beyond the capacities of cats and collie dogs, Its true, when they lick your hand in what seems to be gratitude it may be just the salt, or a desire for more. It is human to be reciprocally grateful and inhuman to fail of gratitude. Aristotle and Cicero knew this.

But the behavior of Christians living within the kingdom even now is of another order; it calls us to imitate as best we can the supernatural character of God the Blessed Trinity, who causes the rain to fall on the just as well as the unjust and whose relation to his human family is marked by a supernatural character that, beginning with our creation, is marked by a generous love that like the prodigal’s father goes out to meet us. In the texts cited above Jesus is asking us, empowered by his spirit, to imitate in some small version his own self-giving charity. It is love, says Saint Paul, that seekest not its own (I Corinthians 13:4), refuses to call attention to itself, and quietly gives. This love describes a continuum rooted in our daily lives when we write a note that will not be answered or give to the poor who will not thank us and rising to the heights of sacrifice that share in the cross of Jesus. Not all acts of love are obviously sacrificial; many are troublesome kindnesses. One of the effects of Christianity was, to use an expression favored by (I think) Leo XIII, its ability to “gentle” our civilization.

The text from Luke cited above has an uncomfortably immediate, non-abstract ring. It is one thing to fund dinner for the poor, needy, lame and blind, those physically and economically deprived. It is another thing entirely to invite them to the party. Their interests are not ours; their conversation may not shine. The best chance a middle class westerner may have for meeting the poor and lame may be a nearby traffic island.This is but one example of the narrowing of experience and hence the narrowing of knowledge and sympathy that is characteristic of our culture. This narrowing is not now entirely or even principally economic. What sympathy can there be between those who live in glass towers, eat expensive pick-up food with names unknown, consider Christ a superstition, have at most one child, between these and the mid-westerner with four children, with his F-150, who shows up most Sundays for the Methodist men’s class, and cherishes a day spent drinking Budweiser and fishing for bass on a hot lake in Texas? These are actions and attitudes that describe ways of life between which it is difficult to build bridges, the presuppositions of which are so firmly embedded and fervently if unconsciously held.

So it is hard to reach across the economic gap, and harder to bridge the culture gap, at least in a personal way, but there is one gap, across which we find those suffering from another more prevalent disability that we can indeed touch. The loneliness gap touches every economic and cultural group and across it we will find fifty-eight percent of Americans who say that they are lonely. These are people who live next door, just around the corner, whom we see at the grocery story or at Church, who do not have signs that say, “I am lonely.” Probably you know something of them. Perhaps their interests are mundane, their conversation not sparkling. There is probably nothing they can do for you. Mutatis mutandis, given that this is not first century Judea, among them there is the person you should invite when you give a dinner or a banquet. By befriending them you will not be praised or rewarded but you will be drawn closer to Christ, whose love for the marginalized is as great as His love for you. And if in doing such kindnesses you experience some small awkwardness and discomfort, you will be rewarded on that Day.

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