“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” (Lk 14:13-14).
At the end of this parable, Jesus is expressing another definition of love. Love is not merely an emotion, a feeling, or a state of mind. As I have stated often, I follow St Thomas Aquinas in his definition of love as the willing the good of other as other. This definition of love is unconditional. There are no restrictions placed on another for a return of the good given.
This is what Jesus means by inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. These are people of his time who have nothing to give to someone who has the means of offering a banquet. They could even come, because of their ostracized status without the proper etiquette to even express the most minimal of thank you for the invitation and the meal, and instead to complain about the food, the decor, and even be insulting to the host. Yet, they would be served with humility and grace anyway, because the point is to give without expectation of reciprocity.
Some may say this is impossible, that nobody gives without expecting something in return. Everybody’s got an angle, even if we do something for a compliment. Jesus would probably agree with this claim, for on our own we may not even be able to conceive of giving without looking to get something back in return, let alone doing it. Jesus has countered this claim in a different context, but it applies here just as well: “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
To be able to love then, to be able to will the good of the other without condition, we need to first be willing to receive the love of God that he offers us. We are capable of love because first and foremost, we have been loved ourselves. If we spend no time with God, no time in his word, prayer, worship, acts of service, or most importantly his silence, we will not experience the love of God that he is so willing to share. The proof that he does so is that we are alive. Our very existence, in fact, the reality of all creation, is the result of the outpouring of the love of God.
The first step of receiving the love of God is being aware that our very desire to pray, the mind seeking the existence of God, the urge to move out from our self to reach out to the need of another, is already a response to the One who is loving us and inviting us to go deeper. And when we begin to experience the love of God and share it with one another, there is an inexhaustible supply and a joy for its own sake which comes up from within our soul from God who is the source. As the love pours in and we share it, it continues to flow. If we don’t share or follow through on the movement of love dwelling up within us, or we focus on the external return for the love given, we will often be let down and disillusioned.
JoAnn and my world were turned upside down when we heard about her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Some people might get angry and bitter and say, why me, and it would be understandable. From that first day, and throughout the process, I do not remember JoAnn even tempted to go there. Instead what happened was that she had a hyper-focus on a gift and joy she always had since her youth and that was making or providing gifts for people. Simple, small things that came from the heart, and even if the person receiving the gift never said a word, JoAnn felt more joy in the planning, creating, and the giving of the gift.
Her gift from God was planning and being a gift giver. What happened during these five agonizing months was not that she sunk into a pit of despair, but that her planning and gift-giving went into overdrive and if anyone was in range, and God called her to give a gift, that was going to happen.
One example that emphasizes this was for the Hospice of St Clare team that took care of us and her. JoAnn planned out a pastry, fruit dish that she wanted to present to the team at their bi-weekly meeting. She planned in her mind what she was looking for, sent Jack to the food store with iPhone in hand so they could face time and JoAnn could pick out the items she wanted to place on the platter.
When the items arrived, JoAnn and Christy put together the arrangement, I wrote out the thank you card, JoAnn edited it as I read it to her, I rewrote it and then I drove the platter and card to the office. JoAnn felt the love of God inspire her to reach out to others by giving small gifts with great love, expecting nothing in return. One of the recurring questions JoAnn asked me these past few weeks was would God allow her to continue to give gifts in heaven. I believe he will.
Photo: Pastry/fruit plate JoAnn designed and we all helped to implement with her guidance for our Hospice team. Photo credit – Christy McKee