Not for a Million Dollars
Luke 14:12-14 New Revised Standard Version
He said also 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 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.”
The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of God remains forever.
Much of our society is built on a system of quid pro quo. Quid pro quo is Latin term for "something for something" that originated in the Middle Ages in Europe. It was and continues to be used to describe a situation when two parties engage in a mutual agreement to exchange goods or services with each other. In a quid pro quo agreement, the transfer of something from one party is contingent upon some kind of transfer from the other party.
Today formal quid pro quo arrangements are often documented in a contract. We are all familiar with these arrangements. For example, each spring I sign a contract stating I will work as a school administrator and the school system promises to pay me with a salary and benefits. Or we sign a contract when we buy a house or rent an apartment or purchase a car, to name just a few. Less formal but equally binding, since money is involved, purchasing groceries or even picking up fast food is a type of quid pro quo arrangement.
Other informal quid pro quo agreements exist as well. We are all aware of them, right? An invitation to a wedding of a friend’s child means when your child gets married an invitation from you is expected. There are also the informal agreements with graduation gifts or invitations to parties. The same thing holds true for other things like if you borrow a neighbor’s shovel it is expected you will later let your neighbor borrow one of your tools.
And while in the US we rarely use Latin Phrases (much to the dismay of my high school Latin teacher) we do use colloquialisms such as:
· Tit for tat
· Back and forth
· If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
· This for that
· A favor for a favor
· One hand washes the other
Of course, the phrase quid pro quo did not exist in Biblical times, but the concept certainly did.
Folks were always trying to find away to move up the social ladder and one technique for accomplishing that was via favors and tit for tat.
Dr. Jeannine K. Brown, Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, who studied the Greco-Roman culture in the time of Jesus, shared that individuals would do whatever was necessary to obtain social ranking. It is clear that the idea of quid pro quo was commonplace in Greco-Roman society. Additionally, meals were a very public opportunity to show social ranking and status and provide an opportunity to move up in status. Meals, parties, and banquets were used by the elite and those wanting to be elite to highlight social disparities between individual and groups of people in the first-century world. And ancient texts (such as the Hebrew text known as the Sirach) even provided stores of advice about how to act in social situations like meals in order to make either the host or guest owe the other in reciprocation.
Thus, it seems from Biblical times to our present-day, humility was not considered a virtue. Even when it was preached, it is evident that it was not given much more than lip service. And if you look at so many of the world’s popular leaders today, they are known for their brashness and insolence and not for their humility and service. And sadly, those who live a life of humility are often described or even mocked by others as weak.
Yet, humility and service are the mark of the followers of Jesus, according to so much of the New Testament.
In fact, Jesus clearly speaks against the practice of giving in expectation of reciprocation. It is a counter-culture message that most of the people who heard it did not really understand. And such a lack of understanding is still prevalent to this day.
I recently read a story of a group of Christian business executives who went on a mission tour to a developing country to see how they might use their wealth and influence to support mission work. On the trip they visited a squalid homeless shelter, to view firsthand the work among the poorest of the poor. There they came upon a nun, feeding an elderly, emaciated man. The man was obviously quite ill, and his body was covered with oozing sores and ulcers. With infinite patience, the nun was spooning a thin soup into his mouth and carefully catching the drops as they ran down the gray stubble on his chin. While moved it was obvious that these men were uncomfortable in what they were witnessing.
One of the men in the group remarked to another not realizing the nun could hear him, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.” Having heard him, the nun looked up and said with a smile, “Neither would I.”
Friends, that is the definition of Christian servanthood: doing a thing not because we get something for doing it, but because it’s right, and it needs to be done — and because we love the person we’re serving because even if we do not know their name, we recognize their dignity as a child of God.
Friends, we are to honor all and do so for Christ’s sake. The gospel message, though uncomfortable in our quid pro quo society, is clear—it is in servanthood that true greatness is found.
And this message of sacrifice and service has been the message even from the beginning of God’s relationship with the chosen people.
One of my favorite texts from the Old Testament comes from the book of Deuteronomy Chapter 15:7-11. I would like to close by sharing these words as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message.
When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don’t count the cost. Don’t listen to that selfish voice saying, “It’s almost the seventh year, the year of All-Debts-Are-Canceled,” and turn aside and leave your needy neighbor in the lurch, refusing to help him. He’ll call God’s attention to you and your blatant sin.
Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So, I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors.
May we indeed love others with no strings attached, which is how God loves each of us. Thanks be to God for such grace.