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Gratitude and Grace
Gratitude and Grace

The Gospel of Grace

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Jesus said to the host who had invited him, “When you hold a lunch or dinner … invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” —Luke 14:12–14

Inspired by the above exchange in the Gospel of Luke, Richard explores the economy of grace in which God desires us to live.

I’d like to contrast two economies or worldviews. The first economy is capitalism, which is based on quid pro quo, reward and punishment, and justice as retribution. This much product requires this much payment. It soon becomes the framework for our fundamental relationships, our basic self-image, and actions (“I deserve.” “You owe me.” “I will be generous if it helps me, too.”), and constructs a faulty foundation for our relationship with the Divine.

We’ve got to admit that this system of exchange seems reasonable to almost everybody today. If we’re honest, it makes sense to us, too, and seems fair. I’m not going to say it’s wrong—it does much good. The only trouble is, Jesus doesn’t believe it at all, and he’s supposed to be our spiritual teacher.

Let’s contrast this “meritocracy,” the punishment/reward economy of basic capitalism, with what Jesus presents. I’m going to call it a gift economy. In a gift economy, there is no equivalence between what we give and how much we get. We don’t really like this model, because we feel we’ve worked hard to get “what’s ours.” We feel we have earned our rightful social positions.

Yet if we call ourselves Christians, we have to deal with the actual gospel of grace. The only way we can actually understand this is if we’ve had at least one experience of being given to without earning. It’s called forgiveness, unconditional love, and mercy. If we’ve never received unearned, undeserved love, we will stay in the capitalist worldview where 2 + 2 = 4. I put in my 2, I get my 2 back. But we remain very unsure, if not angry, about anything “free,” whether it is free health care (physical, mental, or spiritual) or even free education. These benefits can be seen as natural human rights that sustain peoples’ humanity and dignity, as papal social encyclicals make clear. All too often, though, we only want people in our own group to benefit from health care, education, and bail outs.

The bottom line is that we don’t “deserve” anything, anything! It’s all a gift. Until we have begun to live in the kingdom of God instead of the kingdoms of this world, we will think exactly like the world. To understand the gospel in its radical, transformative power, we have to stop counting, measuring, and weighing. We have to stop saying “I deserve” and deciding who does not deserve. None of us deserves! This daily conversion is hard to do unless we’ve experienced infinite mercy and realize that it’s all a gift—all the time.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Capitalist Economy and Gift Economy,” homily, September 1, 2019, MP3 audio.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Loïs Mailou Jones, Textile Design for Cretonne (detail), 1928, watercolor on paper, Smithsonian. Loïs Mailou Jones, Eglise Saint Joseph (detail), 1954, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

This street scene reminds us of the ordinary, loud, multi-colored, sun and shade gift of life.

Story from Our Community:  

Working at my desk, I looked out of my window and was mesmerized by the beauty of the sun shining on the leaves. It was a very cloudy day (and so was my mood) and it filled my soul with joy and gratitude. I’m trying to be more centered and mindful so I won’t miss God’s sacred gifts in the future. —Cherie H.

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