Up till now Jesus has talked to the guests. Now he turns to the host. “Don’t touch that snake, lest it bite you and you die.” “Don’t climb that rope, lest it break and you fall.” “Don’t invite your friends and brothers and relatives and rich neighbors to dinner, lest you be repaid in kind.” What an unearthly argument! “Danger! Repayment ahead!” “Warning! This repayment may be dangerous to your health!” Who on earth would talk like that? Probably somebody whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36); somebody who knows that 1,000 years on this earth are like yesterday when it is gone (Psalm 90:4); somebody who knows that our life is but a mist that appears and in a moment vanishes away (James 4:14); who knows that he who saves his life now will lose it later, and he who loses it now in love will save it later (Mark 8:35); and who knows that there will be a resurrection unto eternal life, a resurrection of the just to live with God a million millennia of eons, if indeed he was our God on this earth. Jesus is the man. No man ever spoke like this man. And the people who call him Lord ought not to be like any other people.
Take heed how you hear. There are some whose first and only reaction to Jesus’ words will be: “Well, he can’t mean that, because then we would have no more church suppers, no more Sunday School socials, no more family reunions, and even the Lord’s Supper would have been wrong.” Then, having thus defused the text and bent the sword of the Spirit, they move on to the next passage and right on through the New Testament justifying themselves and, just like the Pharisees, manipulating the law of Christ to preserve their unruffled tradition and convenience.
There is no better defense against the truth than a half-truth. And the half-truth is, Jesus does not intend to end all family meals and gatherings of friends. But the truth is: there is in every human heart a terrible and powerful tendency to live by the law of earthly repayment, the law of reciprocity. There is a subtle and relentless inclination in our flesh to do what will make life as comfortable as possible and to avoid what will inconvenience us or agitate our placid routine or add the least bit of tension to our Thanksgiving dinner. The most sanctified people among us must do battle every day so as not to be enslaved by the universal tendency to always act for the greatest earthly payoff.
The people who lightly dismiss this text as a rhetorical overstatement are probably blind to the impossibility of overstating the corruption of the human heart and its deceptive power to make us think all is well when we are enslaved to the law of reciprocity, the law which says: always do what will pay off in convenience, undisturbed pleasures, domestic comfort, and social tranquility. Jesus’ words are radical because our sin is radical. He waves a red flag because there is destruction ahead for people governed by the law of reciprocity.