Favoring People Who Cannot Return the Favor, Part 2

By Mark D. Roberts

October 4, 2021

Scripture – Luke 14:12-14 (NRSV)

[Jesus] 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 blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”


Jesus calls us to be generous to those who cannot be generous to us. We’re to invite into our lives those on the edges, those whom we can serve without the promise of an earthly reward. In serving others, we are blessed, not by their ability to reciprocate, but by God’s delight in our self-giving actions.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began reflecting on Luke 14:12-14, a passage in which Jesus tells us not to invite people to a meal because they are able to return the invitation. Rather, Jesus says, we should “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13), namely, those who are unable to reciprocate. Whether we’re inviting people to dinner, mentoring them, or doing business with them, we should not be dominated by self-interest. Rather, we should seek to serve others, to be generous in the way of God’s kingdom.

Today I’d like to share another thought with you in response to Luke 14:12-14. It has to do with whom we should invite to our dinner parties and the like. “When you give a banquet,” Jesus said, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (14:13). In Jesus’s day, these folk were on the outer margins of society. They lacked power and privilege. They were, in particular, not able to reciprocate when others were generous to them. Jesus’s exhortation challenges me to look at my own life, both my personal life and my professional life. Am I including those who are often excluded? Am I serving those who are unable to serve me in return? Am I stretching the boundaries of my life and work so as to reach out to folk who are on the margins of my cultural life? Am I willing to be generous with those who cannot respond with equal generosity?

I know I have much to learn here, much room for growth. But I also know that, at least in some ways, I have tried to follow the directive of Jesus. Take Life for Leaders, for example. As you know, we at the De Pree Center make this devotional available to people without charge. We do this out of a desire to serve people whether or not they are able to serve us in return. We’re glad to give this devotional away for free. (We are able to do this, I should add, because of the generosity of many of our readers, who support the work of the De Pree Center, making it possible for us to produce Life for Leaders in addition to other resources. So, in a very real way, the generosity associated with Life for Leaders isn’t just that of the De Pree Center. Rather, it reflects the generosity of the larger De Pree Center community, including Life for Leaders readers.)

Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing organizations that sell their resources. There is certainly a place for this. Even Jesus said that “the laborer deserves to be paid” (Luke 10:7). The De Pree Center charges for some of our resources and experiences, though we try to find funding for those who can’t afford what we offer. But it’s one thing to charge a reasonable amount for something and quite another to be motivated mainly by self-serving desires. It would be very sad, and contrary to the teaching of Jesus, if we worked mainly to enhance our own sustainability.

I get to talk with a lot of church leaders these days. It’s one of the perks of my job. Often, folks want to talk with me about our third third initiative and its relevance for their church. A couple of months ago, a pastor shared his desire to reach out more effectively to older adults in his church. So far, so good. Yet, as he explained why he wanted to do this, everything he said related to the benefit for the church and its future. Though I agreed with him that more effective third third work would help his church thrive, I was worried about what appeared to be his lack of expressed concern for the older adults in his church and community. Were they valuable only because of what they could do for him and his church? Or to put the matter in the way Jesus framed it, would third thirders get invited to the meal mainly because they could return the invitation? I wonder.

Please understand that I’m not criticizing pastors and other church leaders who think seriously about how to support and sustain their churches. We need leaders with this sort of vision. But the teaching of Jesus warns us about becoming overly motivated by what’s good for us and our organizations. If our primary purpose is self-serving, then we are missing the target set up by Jesus. Ironically, though, Jesus promises that we who favor those who cannot return the favor will, in fact, “be blessed” (Luke 14:14). Our blessing will come, not in the form of reciprocal pay back from those we serve, but rather in the form of God’s blessing “at the resurrection of the righteous” (14:14). Among other things, we will get to hear God’s delight in us and our efforts as God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Can you think of a time when you’ve invited someone to something (a meal, an event, etc.) even though this person was different from you and not able to return the favor?

If you’re in business, how does your business seek to serve people? Is service a genuine motivation? Or is service always secondary to the financial bottom line?

How can churches, and the pastors who lead them, be rightly concerned about church sustainability and also prioritize ministry to others, whether or not they can help the church thrive?


Again, do something today to serve someone who is not able to serve you in return.


Lord Jesus, thank you for your strong encouragement in this passage from Luke. Thank you for giving us a vision of generosity and inclusion. Thank you for challenging us to open our homes and hearts to those who are not people of power and privilege.

By your grace, Lord, may our priorities be in the right place. May we always seek your kingdom most of all. And may we then seek to serve others in your name. Be glorified, Lord, in all that we do. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: How to Throw a Kingdom of God Party

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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