Quid Pro Quo

"Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you" (Luke 14:14).

When Jesus addressed his hosts at dinner with the suggestion they invite to table those who could not reciprocate, he was upending the entire protocol of how to get ahead in a culture built on patronage and the exchange of favors. 

The logic of quid pro quo, "giving to get," was the basis for social advancement and class standing. You gave dinners to put others under obligation to invite you back. Favor for favor, people climbed the social ladder, built their reputations and gained the approval of those who could help them.

The idea of bringing to your table the poor, the lame, blind and crippled was absurd. But Jesus was not just offering a lesson in compassion for the needy. He was offering his guests a chance to free themselves from the trap of only acting for self-advantage. Jesus was warning them of the inner poison of reducing every relationship to calculation instead of the mutuality of real friendship and love. He was challenging them to expand their small, inbred, class-conscious worlds to the far richer adventure of genuine community. 

The deepest lesson of all was to grasp that by acting in this way, we come to know God, who loves us all unconditionally, without merit. Our very existence is pure gift, and the secret of a happy life is to be so grateful to God that we let every gift flow through us to others. The glass filled to overflowing is still full.  Imitating God's generosity to us by sharing with others does not diminish us, but enlarges us, insuring that every act of love increases our capacity for love. The host who shares freely, regardless of repayment, is rich beyond measure because he or she is free of the need to measure. 

This is the joy of the Gospel.