Banquets of Blessing

Wedding Table

Luke 14:13-14 “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus gives us a representative list of the kinds of people who found it difficult to find life’s basic necessities. There were no social programs in Israel that provided so much as our government provides today. These people relied on the personal charity of others. And they would not have been in a position to pay anyone back in any way.

Lest we miss the point of Jesus’ words, let’s understand he is not saying that we have done our duty if we simply invite a few poor people over to eat once in a while. A banquet where you can’t be repaid by your guests is just one specific example of a greater principle. If God has given us more than we need–more food, more clothing, more money, more anything–he has done so, in part, so that we can help those in need. Moses commanded the Israelites to help the poor. The prophets complained about Israel’s failure to do so. John the Baptist told the man with two outfits to share with the one who has nothing. One of the first programs set up by the apostolic church after they had established the preaching and teaching of the gospel was a program to distribute food to the poor. One of the first stewardship programs we know about in the New Testament was a collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

About this time a little voice inside of us begins to object, “But I have seen some of these poor people. Some of them have drunk themselves into poverty. Some of them have no self-discipline. Some of them are just lazy.” Granted. Jesus isn’t asking us to become enablers who reinforce bad habits when we know that our charity is going to be abused. But that doesn’t negate his words. Why try to justify ourselves? Why not rather let Jesus’ words confront us and convict us of our stinginess? None of us has been so generous and charitable as we could be. Why condemn ourselves by adding self-righteousness to the mix?

In teaching us to be generous, Jesus is simply asking us to reflect the kind of charity we have received from him. We are absolute beggars spiritually. We can never repay him for leaving heaven, keeping the law in our place, dying for our sins, winning us complete forgiveness, calling us to faith, or giving us eternal life. Still he gives us all this and more as a gift of his grace. We do nothing Jesus himself has not done if we give to others knowing we can’t be repaid.

And in our charity, Jesus promises we will be blessed. What does it mean to be truly blessed, to be truly happy? It is true, people find a degree of happiness in the things this world has to offer. I am happy with my family, my home, my car, and my other things. These, too, are God’s blessings to me. Even Scripture describes them that way.

But those things don’t always turn out so happy. When they do, that happiness is often short-lived. Martin Luther once said, “Material wealth is the smallest blessing God can give to a man.” If we find our happiness in nothing more than this, the problem is not that we have wanted too much. We have settled for far too little! Jesus promises us far greater blessings when he promises, “Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Don’t read more into his words than they say. He is not saying that our acts of charity somehow paid our admission to the heavenly banquet. It’s not as though God “owed” us, and in heaven we get paid what we earned. God’s invitation is purely a gift, an act of his grace. Jesus paid our admission in full with his blood on the cross. Jesus removed the sins that barred our admission.

Jesus’ point is this: what we give the poor is a pittance compared to the treasures our Lord has waiting for us. No matter what we give here, the gifts we receive at God’s heavenly banquet will make our gifts to others look microscopic. In that sense it is the banquet where we will be “repaid” and more.

All of this is true because we will be the guests of the perfect host. This is the feast in the kingdom of God, who spares nothing to serve us, though he himself will never be repaid.

In view of such riches, we can happily give to those who need our charity.

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