What’s in it for me?
I ask myself that question a lot. Maybe you do too. Oh, maybe not explicitly – or maybe not in these exact words. And I definitely don’t say them out loud in the presence of others.
But the question is there nonetheless: in the back of my mind, shaping and influencing my decisions: what’s in it for me?
I ask that question when a friend calls me and wants to go to dinner or out for the evening – when all I really want to do is go home and do nothing. . .
I ask that question when the Bishop or someone else from the Chancery calls me to be on another committee – do I really want to give up even more of my time to sit in meetings?
I ask that question when someone calls me to give a talk or a presentation somewhere – especially if it is out of town: do I really want to commit to the preparation I’ll have to do – and then the time in the car?
What’s in it for me?
Yes, that simple question seems to play a pretty significant role in many of the decisions I make.
And sometimes – that’s okay. After all, God probably doesn’t care too strongly whether or not I go out to dinner – even if a friend might be slightly disappointed by my lack of enthusiasm.
And I suppose there is nothing wrong with turning down a speaking engagement, if it really isn’t something that grabs my interest.
And none of us needs to take on every single bit of work that comes our way – especially if it means that it will stretch us too thin to the point of NOT being able to meet our other responsibilities. . .
But I use these examples simply to show that the decisions we make in life RARELY are the product of pure motives. . . The truth is – a little bit of “what’s in it for me?” or “What am I getting out of this?” or “How do I benefit?” is often lurking somewhere in our decision-making process – whether we are aware of it or not. And sometimes that’s okay. It really is. But, as you can imagine – sometimes it’s not. . .
“Rather when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”
So says Jesus in today’s Gospel. . . In a parable told in the house of a leading Pharisee – Jesus talks about the importance of NOT taking a seat of honor at a wedding banquet, but taking the lowest place instead.
Jesus then goes on to encourage his listeners to be humble--- and not to exalt themselves. He then caps off the story with the broad invitation we should give to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind --- precisely because they can’t return the favor, can’t pay us back. This kind of giving is truly a selfless act – because there is NOTHING in it for the giver.
Or is there?
Jesus ends his story by saying: “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In one sense, the story seems to be encouraging us to purify our motives – to do good things simply for the good of others. Jesus seems to be saying, “Don’t simply love someone because they can love you in return – or be generous with someone because they will then be obligated to be generous with you – or do a favor for someone so that they will have to do a favor for you at some other time: An I’ll scratch your back – you scratch mine type of thing. . .
NO – Jesus wants us to do good simply because it is the right thing to do ---not because there is anything in it for us.
But then what about the ending: about being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous?” Can’t that taint our motives? Doesn’t that sort of imply that we should do good things ----- so that God owes us??
Not quite. . .
I think one of the greatest challenges of faith is believing that God owes us nothing. After all, most of our human interactions are almost the complete opposite – they are all about transactions – I am getting this so I owe you that. . .
But our relationship with God isn’t like that. We can’t earn God’s love – nor do we have to. God gives everything freely, purely, and unconditionally.
And that’s the key to this Gospel. . . when Jesus calls us to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – he is simply asking us to do what he has already done and is continuing to do:
The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – aren’t just OTHER people – they are you and me – God has already invited us to the feast. God has welcomed us in through our Baptisms and the life of this community. God feeds us and nourishes us at this sacred table. God has forgiven and healed us and consoled us time and time again. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: God has already won a great victory for us through the death and resurrection of his son – a victory which holds out the promise for each of us to be united with God for all eternity!!
And so God’s “repayment” to us is NOT because God owes us anything – but rather because God has already saved us --- saved us in this moment – in this life – and in the life to come. It’s NOT a repayment at all ---- IT’S A GIFT – the perfect gift. The victory has already been won. The wedding feast has begun – and we are sharing in that feast this very day!
And so God calls us to love others because God has first loved us. God asks us to forgive because God has already forgiven us. God wants us to shower others with kindness and mercy – because God does the same for us each and every day!
And the best way to say thank you to God – is to live our lives in gratitude and service.
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