I believe that this past Sunday's Gospel reading is a real quote from Jesus. There is a lot of contention among scholars as to what is a real story that Jesus told, or a precept that he taught. They suspect that much was added to the Jesus story in the early Church, where our attitude of treating Scripture as inviolable did not yet exist. There was so much added to what is now the New Testament that by the time the Gospel According to John was written, Greek philosophy had begun to supplant the Hebrew Christianity that we see in the other Synoptic Gospels.
One of the general characteristics to look for is that of being different--different from what was previously taught in Judaism, for example. The story from the Gospel According to Luke passes that test. It goes like this:
"He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the bline. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." [Luke 14:8-14]
This is so unusual in concept that there have been broad misinterpretations of it by some popular Christian writers. One of them is the usually-great Rev. Robert Fulghum, who seemed to take this saying as an indication that the righteous would "get into heaven" only after the prostitutes, criminals, poor people and others whom we normally consider to be lacking in common humanity. Now, I could be wrong about Rev. Fulghum's enigmatic story about it in one of his books--in that case I apologize in advance--but I don't think that Jesus was talking about getting into Heaven, but rather about our behavior here in this life.
We have all seen the people who "suck up" to those that they consider superior, in the hope of being admitted to a new, higher class of friends. This is not unknown in religion, I hasten to add; one aspect of it is the "prosperity gospel" that teaches us, if we believe it, that good fortune and material possessions are rewards from God for believing the right things. And those "right things" just happen to be evangelical fundamentalism. So God will, in effect, pay you if you are an evangelical. This is a detestable concept and it is actually still being taught by people who are now invested in it and get money from teaching this swill to credulous, terrified evangelicals.
These same evangelicals seem to be as happy as children with the intimate relationship they have with the Republican Party, through which they obtain money and, they think, prestige by associating with the rich and powerful. The so-called Moral Majority that was founded in the Seventies has run its course, and association with Teabaggers, racists and hate-mongers is not what it used to be. What Jesus is saying, though, is the opposite: if you give without thought of your own gain, you will be repaid for real charity by God. And by "real charity," we mean, "taking care of people who are not able to recompense you in any way, just because it is the right thing to do."
So my belief in this is based on the fact that it is different from the First-Century Jewish practices that we see Jesus castigating in other passages as well. In another anecdote he points out the "righteous" Jews who stand in the streets and pray ostentatiously, remarking that they have received their reward. This is quite compatible with the idea of giving to those who cannot possibly repay you. He also seems to disapprove of the type of man who went into the Temple and prayed, "Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men." So this remark that I mention today is in that pattern: give to those who need it, just because they need it, without judgment.
In connection with this posting, I also want to mention that I seem to have incurred a cyber attack after tracing down a link that refuted a rumor that Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona had decided to institute a gay-to-straight conversion therapy program in Arizona's public schools. First and foremost, this is not true. I am no fan of our governor, but she is not involved in such a pursuit.
In the process of investigating this for my friend Paul, who goes to church at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson as I do, apparently I got a virus connected with the story that I found about it. So I have been delayed in posting for a couple of days while I fixed my computer. That is now done, obviously, and we'll get on to what is going on in liberal Christianity.