John Newton, the converted slave trader and author of Amazing Grace,described it as the part of Jesus’ teaching that has been most neglected by his own people. The passage he had in mind was Luke 14:12-14:
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
We’ve seen that Luke’s Gospel is written to most excellent Theophilus telling him that God is on the side of the humble, the poor, the blind and the prisoner. What is clear is those who claim allegiance to the Lord Jesus must share that concern. We are to invite the marginalized to meals- because they are the people that God invites to the Messianic banquet at the end of time: that’s where Luke 14 goes. To fail to associate with the poor is to indicate that pride has not been given up- it is to have the attitude of the Pharisees who want to be seen with those who are impressive. Again- those who humbly receive God’s grace will want to be generous in extending it to others.
As I read Christians from down the ages, I am struck that giving to the poor seems to be emphasized less in churches these days despite the commands of Jesus (Luke 12:33) and the example of Paul (Gal 2.10). I suspect there are two reasons for this- in part is an overreaction against the social gospel of liberal Christians (and Jesus does emphasize the necessity of preaching the Gospel- Luke 9:60) and it also because of uncertainty as to what we should do when there is a welfare state in existence.
I want to suggest that the practice of hospitality deals with the second concern. The state won’t do this. Poverty is multi-layered and it involves isolation just as much as material need. Warm hospitality as commanded by the Lord Jesus is a great way of including people. I’ll write a review of Tim Chester’s book A Meal with Jesus in my next post- but just one quote:
“The marginalized cease to be marginal when they are included around a meal table.”
Or here is Newton again on that passage in Luke 14:
“I do not think it is unlawful to entertain our friends; but if these words do not teach us that it is some respects our duty is to give a preference to the poor, I am at a loss to understand them.”
I am grateful for our weekly church lunches where a welcome is extended to all types of people. And I know that hospitality can be difficult- I don’t find my flat the easiest place to host families. But I- and maybe others- need to face the challenge as to whether we discriminate in the type of people we invite round. Jesus is clear- to follow him is not about social respectability- it involves associating with the marginalized.
Francis Schaeffer was a great example of warm hospitality to all sorts of people. He issued a challenge to the church:
“I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin opening your home…”