Jesus turns the world upside down – again!

The 11th Sunday of Trinity

Luke 14;1,7-14

In this week’s Gospel reflection, Jesus is an invited guest for a Sabbath meal in a Pharisee’s house, when He criticises the other guests because they are all jostling for the best places. It’s pretty clear that the Pharisee had invited all his cronies along for the meal, the very categories that Jesus mentioned – friends, brothers, family and rich neighbours. Jesus introduces a totally new principle.

Luca Signorelli (ca. 1490), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As so often, he turns the world upside down – draw up your guest list on the basis not of whether you might offend your rich Aunt if she’s not invited, or how much your guests will be able to give you in return, but how little. When you throw a party, bring in all the “drops outs”, the “down and outs”, the “riff raff,” the people who make you feel uncomfortable, and would also make your respectable friends feel uneasy too. That is a really hard saying. Many people tend to think “It’s my house, it’s my party, it’s my money, so it’s up to me what I do with it – why shouldn’t I enjoy myself with my friends?” Jesus says “God has lent you all these things and you are expected to use them in the way he wants, not just to suit yourself.” The world says “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Jesus says “Come and eat at my table, and my friends’ tables – it’s for you, it’s for everyone who’s willing to follow me – rich and poor, famous and unknown, there’s room for all, and I want you all there and I want my friends to keep open house for the world.” But the point about being generous to the disadvantaged is basic – our motives are always so mixed, so often, lurking somewhere is the thought “This will work out to my advantage in some way.” If we give to the poor, unobtrusively, not seeking the approval of the world, then we are beginning to learn what Christian generosity is all about, what the heart of Jesus cries out for. Ultimately there is only one reward that matters and that is the voice of the Lord saying to us “Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom”[Matthew 25; 34], or to put it another way – I have seen your generosity, and you will have a rich reward from me.

So we reflect on this question: what are our motives for being generous?

Some give out of a sense of duty. We’ve probably all felt like this, particularly when we meet someone with a collecting tin when we’re out and about. Oh no, here we go again, we think. We give to man or to God in much the same way that we pay our State Taxes – it’s something that’s got to be done. Or else we give because we hope to get more in return, or because it’s part of a power trip – it makes us feel smug and superior. But the only way of giving for the Christian is the giving that does not count the cost, because it springs from a generous heart, a heart that is large enough to love without thought of reward.

But the world is so twisted that even when we try to give in this way, we are looked on with suspicion – I’ve heard it said that when people try genuinely to give away money or goods they meet with very strange reactions from others – “What’s he after?” Jesus calls us to live what is literally a new life – not just a few slight adjustments to what we are doing already, but looking on the world with new eyes, his eyes, and being ready to make sacrifice – time and money, yes, but sacrifice of the old attitudes as well, the instinctive reactions that put barriers between people, that assert our rights rather than our responsibilities. At every turn of the way we are given opportunities to be generous – the trouble is that half the time we don’t even see them for what they are – look at the world, look at life, look at yourself with new eyes, be generous for the sake of Jesus who has been so generous to us.

Fr. Edward Bryant

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