On being the one who can't repay
I recently spent two weeks in Philadelphia. Two long, full, glorious weeks. I stayed in three different homes and reunited with dozens of friends and made some new ones, too. One friend gave up her bed for me, others allowed me to call their apartment my own while they were away, countless more treated me to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, coffee or drinks, even a concert of my very favorite band. For fourteen days, I was the grateful beneficiary of my friends' generosity.
It was also embarrassing.
You see, I find myself in quite an uncomfortable season these days. I'm between the convent and the next step of finding housing and a job and a familiar routine, and there's a whole lot for me to handle in this chaotic middle. I look back on the days when I had a warm, welcoming, beautifully decorated apartment nestled in the city, one I was proud to call my own. It was a haven not just for me, but for many others, too. There were my sweet roommates and my weekly Bible study and scads of friends who regularly came for brunches, sleepovers, dinner parties, tea. It was a time when I could give without counting the cost, when I was gainfully employed and not yet contending with the tumult of upheaval.
It was through exercising hospitality in the traditional sense—shopping for groceries with my dinner recipe in mind, racing to the door with a smile at the sound of the doorbell, hanging coats and asking questions and refilling glasses of water or wine—that I came alive. Hosting friends in a home I loved was grounding, and nourishing, and altogether good.
But now? Now, I'm jobless and uneasy and, well, poor. All I can do these days is receive, and, quite frankly, I don't like it one bit. It's been easy to get discouraged in my job search, to feel like a burden, to cringe in the face of my utter dependency whose end I cannot see.
Happily, this familiar funk has an obvious, easy, ever-ready cure: listen to the voice of God.
"When you give a dinner or a banquet," Jesus says to His Pharisee host, "do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:12-14).
For years, I've read this as it's intended for the Pharisee to hear. But now? Now, I'm the poor one. I'm maimed and lame and blind, pushing my way through grief and perplexity, at the mercy of those who have the capacity to give, for I do not. Does Jesus want the poor, maimed, lame, and blind to feel ashamed at their need? To feel like worthless burdens who have nothing to show for themselves and therefore don't deserve a place at the table? To feel hopeless and desperate, ready to despair at their sorry lot? No, no, and a big fat no.
I am poor, and that poverty evokes a blessing upon those who give of their wealth. No, I cannot repay these dear friends of mine, except in love and gratitude. But their repayment will be much greater than a reciprocal coffee or home-cooked meal. Letting myself be taken care of in my need is, in fact, a gift to the other.
And isn't that how we all come before the Lord, anyway? Poor and in desperate need, with nothing to give but our very selves? Won't we appear before Him face to face with empty pockets, all our worldly goods left below, the only treasure remaining contained in our hearts?
Maybe this needy in-between season of mine isn't all that bad. For it's opened me up to receive anew, and brought blessing upon my generous friends, and pointed me to the reality of my spiritual poverty.
Yes, I may be poor and unable to repay. But if I am becoming rich in what matters to God? I'll go on being poor, then, praying to trade my embarrassment and discomfort with humility and gratitude, and praying too for the eyes to see what this means for eternity, where our true wealth lies.