THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
One day three businessmen, strangers to one another, happened to be walking down the same street in Saskatoon when they were all approached by a beggar.
“Excuse me sirs, I don’t mean to take up your valuable time, only I hope that you would help me out with a little money for something to eat” the man said.
The three businessmen didn’t respond but only looked at the beggar before turning to look at one another in turn, suddenly aware that they (all four of them) had each become participants in what was to be an unusual experience.
After another pause, one of the businessmen finally spoke to the beggar: “Why should I help you? What’s in it for me?”
The beggar replied confidently: “Suppose I were to tell you, my busy and successful friend, that I am no ordinary beggar but actually also a very successful man who is only now down on his luck? Suppose I were to tell you that if you gave me just $5 so that I could get some food to make it through the day, I would remember this kindness (as well as your kind face) and repay you ten-fold once I have remade my fortune? Or (while we are supposing things and the day is still young) suppose you are feeling especially generous today? If you were to give me just $10 (a small sum for someone as successful as yourself) I would not only eat but have money leftover to invest in my return to financial success? If you did that, I would be happy to repay you one hundred-fold in only two years time!”
The businessman who spoke did his best to maintain his stone-faced appearance but his creeping smile gave away the fact that he was not only impressed by the beggar’s pitch but also convinced to part with his money.
Finally, he shook his head and began to laugh: “I don’t know if you’re confident or crazy but I’ll take my chances, here’s ten dollars, I’ll meet you back on this street, on this day two years from now, don’t forget my $1000!”
With that, the businessman briskly walked away while the beggar made the $10 disappear into his clothing.
The two remaining businessmen watched him walk for a moment then turned to one another, shrugged, and began up the street as well.
“Well now friends! Let’s not be too hasty! I have his investment, but what about yours?” the beggar said.
One of the two remaining businessmen replied: “Well, I’d say you’ve already had a profitable morning, and besides, I don’t buy any of what you just swindled him with.”
The beggar smiled, lowered his head, and spread his palms in a “you’ve got me” gesture.
Then he approached the second businessman and spoke in a voice that was almost a whisper: “You are right, of course. Truth is: I’ve never had any worldly success and I don’t really think I’m headed that way now. I won’t waste your time with all that. Only… I just don’t want you to be embarrassed in-front of your friend,” the beggar said gesturing to the businessman who had not yet said a word.
The second businessman laughed: “Actually I’ve never met him before in my life, and anyway, how would you embarrass me?”
“Oh I wouldn’t dream of it!” the beggar said, showing his palms again, “but you might do it to yourself… that is if you would find it embarrassing to be seen as a cheap skate in front of your peers… or worse… as someone who wasn’t as compassionate as the fellow who just left our little story…”
The second businessman let this wash over him for a moment and then glanced at the third who was—at the moment—yawning and checking the time on his gold watch.
The second businessman nodded thoughtfully (trying, unsuccessfully, to show that he was as calm and controlled as ever) then removed the billfold from his jacket and handed the beggar a crisp, green, $20 bill.
“God bless you” the beggar smiled and made the $20 disappear. The second businessman clicked his Italian leather shoes up the street, less wealthy than he’d been a moment ago, but just as prideful.
Neither the beggar nor the third businessman watched him go. They simply turned their eyes toward one another and gave identical polite smiles.
“My friend…” the beggar began, “I don’t know where we should start but I think we both know where we shall end”
The third businessman snorted a laugh and nodded “I suppose we do.”
“Tell you what, I’ll let you choose: what shall it be? greed or pride? or perhaps something new? gambling? entertainment? public spectacle? pity? a tearful story about the state of this whole sorry unfair world?” the beggar wiped away an imaginary tear and stood smiling, waiting for the reply.
“No. None of those, thanks” the third businessman said and removed his wallet from his back pocket.
The beggar’s smile slipped from playful to confused (as he watched the man open the wallet) and then turned to something resembling alarm when the businessman took all of the cash within (which included more than a few red $50s and grey $100s), packed the bills into a neat stack, and held them out for the beggar to take.
The beggar’s confusion and alarm remained as he looked at the not-at-all thin stack of bills being held in-front of him.
“Um… You do know I can’t pay you back, right?”
“Yes I heard quite well” the businessman said.
“What do I have to do for it?” the beggar asked.
“Not a thing.”
“Well then what do you get out of this?”
“Just the same.” the businessman said and smiled warmly.
The beggar looked from side to side. There was no one else on the street now. “No one will know you’ve done this. There’s no pride to be gained.”
“I’m perfectly aware. Now, please DO take it, I’m beginning to feel a bit foolish”
“O…K…” the beggar said. Then he took the wad of bills, folded them and struggled to get them all neatly into his jeans pocket.
The businessman put back his empty wallet, smiled pleasantly at the beggar and began to walk.
“Have a nice day! God bless!” He said as he departed.
And then he was gone.
As we think about the words of this story (and more importantly) the words of the Lord Jesus Christ this morning, I want to clarify just a couple of things.
First of all, while I want to leave both Scripture and this little tale open to interpretation, I want to be clear about what does not happen afterwards (sort of an epilogue if you will…).
First, the third businessman does not go on to have a windfall at work later that day. I actually prefer to believe that the third business had a slightly below average day at work.
Second, the third businessman did not get reimbursed outside of work.
The third businessman did not find hundreds of dollars on the sidewalk.
He was not bequeathed a fortune from great aunt Mildred. She’s still doing just fine.
He did not find a winning lottery ticket stuck in the windshield wiper of his car.
He just lost the money he gave away. He made due without it. He played less golf that month, he didn’t join his pals at the bar after work, he bought store-brand instead of name-brand groceries; he let his credit card run a bit more debt than usual; he made due.
Third and finally, we do not know what became of the beggar. The third businessman never heard what became of him and neither do we.
In the moment that the third businessman let go of the stack of bills, they ceased to be his.
The third businessman did not come back to “make sure the beggar made something of himself”, it wasn’t an investment, it was a gift. An uncommonly large one but one with no strings attached.
However, we want to think about the characters in this story, however we want to think about Jesus’ words of instruction that inspired it, we don’t know everything.
What we do know, however, is that in seeking a parable-ish answer to a parable-ish story, we can be confident in filling in the blank: “so then, of these three businessmen, who showed the man kindness and charity?”
It was NOT the man who gave $10 because he thought he would get $1000 in return.
It was NOT the man who gave $20 in order to maintain his pride.
It WAS (clearly) the man who gave an uncommon amount in an uncommon way and got nothing of earthly value in return.
In verses 12-14 in the reading we have heard this morning from Luke 14:
[Jesus said] “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, 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 the time we have left this morning, I want to focus just on these three verses.
Hear again these simple yet crucial words:
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.
“When you give a banquet”
When you give a banquet, when you throw a party, when you feed strangers, when you volunteer your time, when you tithe…
“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.”
Invite EVERYONE who cannot pay you back. Jesus is saying “you know that party you’re throwing? You know that volunteering you’re doing? Throw it and do it for EVERYONE who cannot repay you.”
Invite the neighbours who CANNOT AFFORD to invite you back.
Invite the stranger who WON’T invite you back because he thinks you’re a Christian fool.
Help and serve and give to those who have NO WAY of repaying you. Not to shame them. Not to lord it over them. Not to make them feel bad. But because that kind of unselfish, untethered giving reflects the love of God.
When we think about what it means to be a Christian and to live a Christian life, this is what we are talking about:
It doesn’t mean putting on a grand display of your generosity in order to be noticed as good.
It doesn’t mean elevating your own charity higher than God’s Grace and creating an idol out of your own “goodness.”
But nor does it mean avoiding these acts of charity for what people might think.
It is true that if you give uncommonly in uncommon ways some people might think that you are on an ego trip. Jesus says “don’t let that stop you.” Jesus says the master of the banquet will elevate you despite what they think.
It is true that if you go on giving uncommon amounts in uncommon ways you might even lose some social capital in the eyes of people who jump to cynical conclusions about why you are doing it. Jesus says “don’t let that stop you either.”
In all of this: it’s not about them and it’s not about you.
Our Great Commission is to serve “God and Neighbor.” We serve God by serving our Neighbors as Jesus taught us. The pride and cynicism that live within the human heart do not get the final word.
“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.”
Friends, this is why I hastened to add that the third businessman in our story did not receive back the money he gave away.
Not because I wish to control God and say that He is incapable of any sort of blessing, but because that’s not what the Gospel lesson behind the story is about.
Jesus does not say: “invite your poor neighbors, but keep your receipts”
Rather, Jesus says: “invite your poor neighbors, for your reward comes at the resurrection of the righteous.”
God can do anything God pleases. Money and wealth are not beyond God’s capability to bless and to return blessings.
But Jesus’ instruction at the banquet is not about getting back what we spend. It’s about getting much more than that.
“You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”
At the end of history.
When the trumpet blows and the righteous taste the fruit of resurrection, first shown by Christ in His glorious resurrection.
THAT is when you shall be repaid.
When this world has passed away.
When death is no more and every tear of pain is wiped clean.
When God brings about the sinless and perfected world that fits overtop of this one.
That is when you shall be repaid with an invitation, not to a regular banquet, but to a heavenly one.
A heavenly one where the guests are uncommonly gracious. Guests who have walked the earth with empty wallets and full hearts because they had faith in the promise that what is to come is far greater than anything that can be gained in this life alone.