The tension was heavy.
Fatima and Ali explained their financial situation. Their landlord had raised the already-inflated rent another 25% in an effort to get them to leave. They used everything they had to pay her, and now could not afford food. Their oldest daughter had to be pulled out of school to rush the next batch of the wallets that provide the family’s income. Until the wallets are finished and Ali goes on a trip out-of-town to sell them, they will not have money. And to make matters worse, the entire family has been sick with the fever that’s been hitting the neighborhood.
They have a desperate financial need, and know we have money, but didn’t want to ask. They had already taken a loan from us the previous month and weren’t able to pay it back yet. When we first began loaning them money we said they had to pay back their previous loan before they could ask again. Now they are stuck.
We don’t want to increase their indebtedness to us, and we’re afraid we might mess up the relationship if we start giving them money as gifts. (Especially considering the way other relationships have gone downhill so quickly after too much money got involved.) So we didn’t offer, and they didn’t ask.
We couldn’t leave it at that. So as a small gesture, we invited them over for a meal the next day. We made a huge feast (by our standards), the biggest we’ve made in our little slum home. Though my cooking could have been better, some of it turned out okay, and we had a nice time with good conversation. It didn’t solve any of their issues, but they got a high-calorie meal when those are few and far between, and we strengthened our friendship rather than making it more awkward.
I don’t know what the long-term solution is. But for now, I felt that we were able to love them a little bit.
After they left, I remembered Luke 14:12-14.
He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’
Ironically, we had invited to our feast the very people who could not repay us. And I got an insight into Jesus’s wisdom and love. A feast is something people share in together. It is not the same as a soup kitchen or a charitable food distribution. It brings the providers and the beneficiaries together, and as long as the host is gracious, can be a meal among equals even when the participants are not financially equal. It shows the trust and friendship involved in letting another person come into your home. It makes the experience about community, rather than about the provider or the beneficiary. A true feast shared together in a home adds dignity, rather than taking it away.
I hope there was a little bit of benefit in that today.
2 thoughts on “Inviting those who can’t pay you back, Part II”
There is something special about sharing a meal together isn’t there?
However, in south Asia, it seems nigh on impossible to invite someone without then creating the expectation or pressure that those you invite to your house, invite you to their place in the future.
So maybe the magic of a feast that Jesus is talking about is more about an outdoor-lots of people-in no one’s home, type event in which any individual doesn’t feel the pressure to invite you back to his place?
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The context in the gospels does seem personal though. I would expect he’s talking to the Pharisees about the same kind of meals that he is regularly invited to.
It’s true that the expectation will be to be invited back even if you invite a poorer person. But I don’t think that “you will be repaid” refers merely to the meal. Inviting people into one’s own home is part of a social exchange that is meant to create a lot of mutual benefits in every society. You invite another wealthy person to your home not only so you can have a wealthy meal in their home, but in order to protect and build your own social status and network. You invite your boss, a religious figure, or the right government official to a fancy meal because you know they have specific favors they might grant you.
Even if the poor person invites you back into their home, you will not accrue the societal benefits that you would from the typical social exchange between wealthy people. In fact, your willingness to enter into their home might even accrue additional benefits to the poorer person (social elevation/acceptance as well as increased self-esteem). Even if they scraped together the money to give you a lavish meal, it’s literally impossible for them to pay you back the way that we really expect to be paid back when we host social gatherings among peers and the powerful.