“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Then Jesus said to His host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.’”
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.”
Luke 12:33-34, 14:12, 14:33
For many the beginning of fall marks the beginning of a new social calendar. School functions, children’s activities, football games, concerts, office parties, fundraisers, Halloween, Thanksgiving… I could go on, but you get the point. The fall schedule can be a very full social slate, and as such it can also be a great opportunity for Christians to exercise the ancient, biblical practice of hospitality. But will we? Will we, as Christians, be truly hospitable this fall? What do we need to embrace this Christian practice?
Two themes intertwine throughout chapters 12-14 of the Gospel of Luke—money and hospitality. In that portion of scripture Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (12:33-34). “Then Jesus said to His host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.’” (14:12). “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be My disciples.” (14:33). Money and hospitality weave in and out of one another in Luke, but what is their connection? And what do we as Christians think we need to offer guests in order to be hospitable to them? What must we give?
I am willing to wager that most of us think we need to have something “positive” to offer when we host. A delicious meal, opulent furnishings, lively conversation, spotless floors, professionally manicured lawns, perfectly mannered children, and more quickly come to mind when I recall some of my most memorable visits to other homes. Do they not for you as well? Certain positive offerings always leave significant impressions upon us. Many of us are consequently deterred from becoming hosts ourselves, because we know that our positive offerings cannot compare with those who have hosted us in the past. Thus, our hospitality is quenched by a fear that our positive offerings will not be enough. In other words, our hospitality is deterred by what we do not have.
But is that where the power of Christian hospitality lies—in the positive offerings hosts extend to their guests? Consider the following words from Karl Barth and his commentary on the book of Romans:
“A man may be of value to another man, not because he wishes to be important, not because he possesses some inner wealth of soul, not because of something he is, but because of what he is—not. His importance consists in his poverty, in his hopes and fears, in his waiting and hurrying, in the direction of his whole being towards what lies beyond his power. The importance of (a Christian) is negative rather than positive. In him a void becomes visible. And for this reason he is something to others: he is able to share grace with them, to focus their attention, and to establish them in waiting and in adoration.”
What Barth is saying is simple but counterintuitive, especially to us with our consumer-conditioned mentalities about worth. As Christians our greatest offerings to others are not positive—they are not out of the reservoir of what we are or have in ourselves. What we uniquely have to offer is the “void” of which Barth speaks—the brokenness and emptiness with which sin has left us, but which God in Christ is healing and filling. Our greatest offerings to others, our most hospitable offerings, are negative—they are what we are not. We are not holier than they—our houses and our lives are not in spotless order—our children are not the beautiful little pixies that our pictures posted on social media display. We just are not... what most people think us to be. And that is a good thing! If we invite others into our homes, serve them “negative” offerings, and they see what we are not, maybe then (and only then!) they will see who Christ is.
Why? Because it is our negative offerings in hospitality that most clearly share grace with others. When others see that fallen people like us, who were once enslaved to the insatiable egotism of sin, are now those who seek to serve others out of our reservoir of weakness, we will certainly leave a unique impression. Christian hospitality is ultimately not an offering of our food, our home, our wit, our house cleaning, our horticulture, our parenting, or anything else that the world can also offer; but rather it is an offering of our Lord Jesus, who has graciously filled the void between us and God through His life, death, and resurrection. It is Him we offer in our hospitality.