There are certain passages in the Bible which are to be interpreted in a figurative sense and with much wisdom and prudence. Today, for example, in the gospel for our Mass, Our Lord tells a Pharisee and his guests in whose home Jesus is sharing a meal that when they give a banquet, they should not invite those who will reciprocate the dinner invitation, but rather they should invite the poor, the lame, the blind who cannot repay a dinner invitation. That way, we will not perform works of kindness just in order to receive a repayment, but for the sheer value of our good deed to the recipients.
I remember one time, I quoted that passage to my mother when she was planning to invite some of our friends to dinner. Boy, you should have heard her reaction! I still laugh about that when this gospel is read.
Certainly Our Lord was not trying to destroy our social life by telling us not to invite our friends and relations for meals. And he certainly didn’t mean for us to jeopardize the safety of our own homes and persons by opening our doors to anybody on the street. We could easily get killed, injured, or robbed that way. No; what he is concerned about, though, is that the haves be concerned for the have-nots, and that our goodness to others not be based upon a calculation of reward. If that is why we give, then we are simply being selfish and our good deeds lose their reward.
This is true on the large scale of the entire human family as well as in the case of the individual. One of the greatest duties incumbent upon our statesmen and government leaders is that of seeing that the hungry are fed; the homeless are given shelter; those without education are provided with schooling. There is enough food on this planet for every human being. There would be plenty of shelter and education for all, IF the leaders of our societies took their duties to the needy seriously. But unfortunately, many of them use food, drink, shelter, clothing, and education as political weapons by which they buy power and influence. The chronic starvation of many of the peoples of Africa is a sin which cries to heaven for vengeance, since those nations could alleviate the hunger if they made that their first priority rather than political power and competition.
When the so-called “Baby Doc” Duvalier was dictator of Haiti, it was discovered that his wife had something like 25 very expensive mink and sable overcoats. When asked why she needed these extremely expensive coats given the warm weather in Haiti and the fact that her people were starving, as is chronic in Haiti, she replied, “We travel a great deal.” And I wonder how many Filipino children went to bed hungry while Imelda Marcos was the president’s wife and bought something like a thousand pairs of expensive shoes. (By the way, both Madame Duvalier and Imelda Marcos claimed to be Catholics. Something is terribly wrong there.) Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.