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. (Lk: 14:13-14)
Jesus gives us a new beatitude in today’s gospel reading: Blessed are those who give and are not repaid. This appears a peculiar teaching since in the Parable of the Talents Jesus indicates that even his Father in heaven expects a return on his investment (Mt 25:26-27).
Yet, we know that the Father has all and needs nothing. Humanity can give nothing to God that would increase his household. God gives grace to all men and he gives more grace to those who use it to do his will (Mt 25:28-20). The return that God expects for his gift of grace is not for the benefit of his own increase, but for our benefit. His repayment is our rise in virtue; his recompense is the happiness we gain in becoming like him. God’s joyful compensation is sharing all that he has with his children who are overjoyed at receiving it.
Thus, the meaning of today’s gospel quotation is that God wants us to be like him who gives and cannot be repaid. The Father desires that we find intrinsic value in giving. This giving does not always have to be monetary. Even if it is monetary, it must first and foremost be spiritual. In a sense our Christian giving is always a passing on of grace and we should always recall that all that we give, be it material, physical, or spiritual, is originally quarried from the mountain of God so that none of us can say definitively “this is mine”. Even our charity finds its source in God since what we give is not ours and what we are repaid returns to its source.
Thus we place on our bulletin cover for this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time a painting by the Romantic and Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, entitled Charity (19th Century). Its imagery and temper is reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites yet it is a purely symbolic work. However, the symbolism of de Chavannes is not that of, say, William Blake. De Chavannes is more reserved in his allegory and his symbolic craft does not lead into fantasy but is rooted solidly in a “romantic-realism” if we may be permitted the expression.
Here we see Lady Charity using her left hand to assist to their feet a mother and daughter while offering with her right hand a sign of blessing. The Lady has come to rescue this poor family from insecure and desperate lodging. The family has been sheltering against the elements in what does not even amount to a lean-to. Their backs are to a wall and they have only one post and one beam with some dead tree branches to shed the elements. The girl standing appears quite chilled. The family has huddled on a bed of straw surrounded by what appears as snow.
Lady Charity might be for us the Blessed Virgin Mary on one of her visitations. In any event she has come to rescue and give comfort to those who cannot repay her. Hence, this Lady is truly blessed.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services