This notion that gifting is a species of exchanging is not limited to Christmas present-giving. We find the temptation to appease the goddess of exchange in most of our social doings. Jesus is invited to one of these doings and takes the opportunity to teach those gathered a little lesson in the true nature of gifting. He tells his Pharisee host and the other guests that a truly gracious dinner, that is, a God-graced banquet, will not be attended by friends, family members, and wealthy neighbors—those, in other words, who can and will invite you to their place in return. The truly God-graced banquet will be packed full of the poor, the crippled, the lame, and blind—those, in other words, who cannot and will not invite you to a dinner party in exchange for your initial generosity. Though you will not be invited to their place for dinner, you will be “blessed indeed…because of their inability to repay you.” This is soul of the gift.
This is one of Jesus’ more straightforward teachings on the nature of generosity. Not too far underneath or too far behind this teaching on gifting is another teaching on the nature of our salvation. Deeply seated in the Jewish religious imagination is the ritual power of exchange, gifts changing hands under the terms of a covenant. Gifts are given to God in the temple to strengthen belonging, to maintain purity or to reestablish purity, for healing and health. From the creature’s side of the covenant nothing divine is free. The New Covenant is a theological, philosophical, spiritual coup, overthrowing the older means of belonging, purifying, and healing. As the perfect gift, we are given Christ on the Cross once. There is no exchange. Our Father, as the wealthy host, has invited us—the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the sinful—has invited us to His banquet with no expectation of receiving anything in return. What could we give God in return for His gift of Himself? The only possibility is for us to bundle ourselves up into His gift of Himself and give ourselves back in Christ. And so you are here to add yourself, we are here to add ourselves to the sacrificial offerings of the altar, placing ourselves under the hands of Christ’s priest as the priest prays, “Lord, send your Spirit upon these gifts that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord, your Son, Jesus Christ.” Though we are not worthy to receive the Lord into our house, we are made worthy of His irrevocable gifts, His irrevocable call, made worthy by His mercy.
Walk out that door this morning having offered yourself as a gift to the Father, fully prepared and empowered to invite to your table all those who cannot repay your gift to them: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
What return shall I make to the Lord?
~an excerpt from yesterday's homily by Fr. Philip, OP (well, his title is catchier than mine): Devil in a Giftbox