“Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a dinner, do not invite your friends, siblings, relatives, or rich neighbors; they may invite you back, and you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the lame, the blind. They cannot repay you, but you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'” – Luke 14:12-14 (NIV, adapted)
Every night in Madrid, the Robin Hood Restaurant serves dinner to indigents, immigrants, addicts, and the unhoused. Not on long tables with pizzas and casseroles, but with linen napkins, ambient music, proper waiters, and chefs on loan from the city’s best establishments.
And it’s free. How? Because at breakfast and lunch, paying customers dine at big city prices, subsidizing dinner.
Great idea, right?
But Robin Hood has critics. For one thing, paying and non-paying diners don’t mingle. Wouldn’t it be better to build humanizing relationships over shared meals? (Some beautiful ministries do just that. I’m looking at you, Friday Café).
But Robin Hood knows that most of their paying customers don’t patronize the restaurant to do good, but to eat well. And that’s okay with them: fine dining shouldn’t be reduced to noblesse oblige.
Separation also allows the evening guests to dine free of the subtle self-congratulatory vibes some charitable people occasionally give off. And they don’t have to act all grateful for mere justice, or help generate that spiritual glow some benefactors expect to feel as payback for doing good.
Jesus saw the potential for quid-pro-quo in even the most caring acts. Serving people who can’t reciprocate your benevolence is a good thing. Learning not to feel slightly defrauded that they don’t is better.
Jesus, if I require thanks for doing good, or the payback of a warm glow inside, remind me I’m doing justice, not favors, and for justice no reward is owed.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.