If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
[While sitting at table] Jesus said to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
In general, people live by the Quid pro Quo principle, of looking after our friends and paying our lawful debts, and once in a while giving something to charity. We like to think that people should get what they deserve. But Jesus seems to require a bit more than that from his true friends. Because God gives us more than we deserve, we should be prepared to do the same for others: go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, be generous because God is generous. This call to go beyond the call of duty finds vivid expression in today's Gospel. Through his parable style, Jesus invites us to an extraordinary level of hospitality in our lives. It is another way, saying the God's goodness to us needs to overflow in our dealings with others: "Blessed are they who show mercy, for mercy shall be theirs" (Mt 5:7).
In his letter to the Philippians Paul translates that general ideal of mercy into specifics. We need to seek unanimity, unity of spirit and ideals, avoid rivalry or conceit, think humbly of self and sincerely care for the interests of others. By such means we do not take away other people's dignity; they remain our brothers and sisters, members of our one large family. Paul then makes it very personal: By this compassion and pity, I beg you make my joy complete . How well he combines the balancing ideals of obligation and spontaneity in Christian life. In one and the same text he refers to that "which you owe me" and that which "I beg you" to do.
The gospel illustrates what showing mercy can mean: When you have a reception, invite people who are ill, lonely or marginalised. If our memory is good, we will recall times when God invited us in our own beggarly and sinful state to a banquet of joy, forgiveness and new life. When Jesus assures us of being repaid in the resurrection of the just, he suggests that we do acts of mercy not just (or primarily) to win praise from others, but rather for the reward promised by God, which includes joy for doing a worthwhile thing for its own sake.
Jesus talks to a wealthy Pharisee who was his host at a meal. That he was invited as a guest was itself unusual, since the Pharisees tended to eat only with their own kind. The guest challenges his host to invite to his table those he would not normally invite, people from outside his usual circle. In contrast to his host, Jesus regularly sat at table with all sorts of people, with the rich and the poor, with the educated and uneducated, with the religious and those considered sinners, with men and with women. His very broad range of table companions was a symbol of his whole ministry. He did not exclude anyone from his outreach. He wanted to reveal the year of the Lord's favour to everyone, especially to those who would have considered themselves outside of God's favour.
By his whole way, life, and especially in his mealtime companionss, Jesus showed the broad hospitality of God. In contrast, the God the Pharisees believed in was a God who wanted to exclude more than include. The gospel calls on all of us to reveal something of the hospitality of God by our whole way, life. We can all be tempted to exclude others, even whole groups of people. It is very easy to move purely within a circle of people whose outlook, attitudes and social class are similar to our own. The gospel this morning invites us to keep widening our circle so that it reveals more and more of the expansive heart of God revealed for us in the life of Jesus.[MH]