Your Payback

I lived in the Back Bay of Boston for about 5 years. The Back Bay is one of the most exclusive places to live in Boston, maybe even the country, and so that makes it also a destination for homeless people to come to ask for money. At some point early on in my living there, after my own experience with God’s mercy began to unfold, I began to spend more time with the homeless people around the area.

Amidst the mix of people on the streets, there were a couple of cousins who were often around the area, smaller guys, one of which was often drunk. They were in and out of programs and jail, and the one back on the booze a lot of times was passed out. I often thought about ways to make a longer-term difference in a complicated situation. But we would have a conversation about how things were going, I would give them an ear to their problems, and then I would go and buy them a sandwich to eat. That’s what I could do.

A few years later, I was in a nearby church, sitting there after a Mass. I felt a poke on my shoulder. I turned around and it was one of those guys. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and he looked better. He said to me in a church-low voice. “Guess what, I have a place to live and I have a job now, in the *best* restaurant down the street.” And without stopping, he said, “Thanks for all the sandwiches. Come by anytime and eat, on me.” The whole time he spoke, he had a big smile on his face, and I only noticed it in part because he wore a baseball hat with a flat lid, and on it was written this word, in the largest and most eye-catching letters I had ever seen on a hat:

JESUS.

There is a part of the Gospel where Jesus tells the important religious people who invite him to eat, hey, when you have a meal, don’t invite friends, family, people who have resources, because they will probably invite you back for a meal, and you’ll have a great meal and fellowship, and that will be your payback. Instead, he says, invite the blind, the lame, the poor – basically people who can’t pay you back, have nowhere to invite you to and nothing to offer you. At the resurrection, then you’ll get your payback. It sounds altruistic, but extreme. What’s wrong with inviting friends over for dinner?

See, the people who don’t have, who are poor in some way in this life, or who are at the bottom or outside of society – they are going to have all the goods in the *next* life – and vice-versa. Yes, it’s true – everything’s going to be reversed! No one in churches ever seems to mention it, but Jesus is very clear: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Lk 6:20) Many that are first will be last, and last who are first, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, etc. and it goes on and on. Yes, everything’s going to be turned upside down – at the resurrection.

At the resurrection – *that’s* when the people you’ve helped will have an unimaginable restaurant to invite you to: heaven. The greatest meal and fellowship!

That will be your payback.

There’s a poor, rural village in Ecuador where I am well known by everyone. They believe I’ve done a lot for them and that I bring a sort of good grace from God when I’m there, almost like a blessed luck charm. I’m also a gringo who signifies access to more resources, and I am associated with the church. When you are all of those things, people can want to give you things, like free meals. There’s a little food stand in the pueblo that I sometimes stop by to chat. Every time I do, they will offer me a plate of food. I gratefully eat it with them. When I’m done, I go to pay, and they say, “No, you don’t pay, Jerome.” So I insist. I say, “Look, I can afford this. There are people struggling much more than me – please, give someone who’s struggling the free meal in my name… And when the day comes that I’m struggling and I need a free meal, then I will gladly accept!” We all laugh and I pay. This happens all the time.

This life is short, the next one is forever. Invest for the next. Now is a good time to open our hearts to the people that are in the places no one wants to be. Now is a good time to have fellowship and a meal with the people who seem to be around last place in life.

Because a time is coming when you will trade places with them, and it will be for forever.

Yes, God’s kingdom belongs to them.

And through them you will hear the invitation to come by anytime and eat, on me. They will be wearing a name as clear as day to see: JESUS

And then, your payback will begin.

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.” (Lk 14:13)

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