In the beginning

What is our responsibility to the poor?

by Father Mike Stubbs

Jesus has something for everyone, no matter who or what we are.

We see that in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 14: 1, 7-14. He is attending dinner at the home of a prominent Pharisee.

In conversation with his fellow diners, he gives advice: both to them in their role as guests — the role which most of them are filling at the moment — and also advice to them whenever they might instead act as hosts themselves at a dinner party in the future.

When they are guests, Jesus advises them not to seek the place of honor, but rather to go to a lower place. Impressed by their humility, the host will then undoubtedly invite them to go higher: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Viewed cynically, this bit of advice could simply look like a practical way of getting ahead in the world.

In fact, Jesus was not the first to make this suggestion to potential guests. The Book of Proverbs proposes: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence, or stand in the place of the great; For it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of the prince” (25: 6-7).

Humility sounds like a way to get ahead in the world. But Jesus goes a step further.

In his advice to his fellow diners whenever they might act as hosts, Jesus tells them not to invite influential guests who can reciprocate the favor, but instead to invite those who are unable to repay them, namely “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

In contrast to the earlier advice that Jesus gave, this piece of advice will not advance their careers in the world. Instead, it will enable them to find favor with God: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Besides this promise of future reward, Jesus’ advice can also result in an immediate benefit which the Gospel does not explicitly state. By encountering “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind,” we can overcome the barriers that separate us from them. We can realize that we all are children of God.

The second bit of advice from Jesus stands out as far more radical than the first. It reflects the constant emphasis in Luke’s Gospel on the poor and our responsibility to them.

Most importantly, it affirms God’s clear concern for them and their physical well-being.

Jesus has good advice for us, but he had much more than advice for the poor and needy.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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