Meals as Ministry

During the summer, many of us enjoy having friends over for a backyard barbecue. The food section of the newspaper is full of menu ideas to please every palate. But do you ever worry that, after all your hard work, your friends won’t show up? If they don’t, it seems to be a reflection on our importance—or popularity. It’s a nightmare scenario, believe it or not, for many a host and hostess.

But maybe we’re worrying about the wrong thing. And just maybe, we’re inviting the wrong people.

In Luke 14, we find Jesus dining at the home of a ruler among the Pharisees. A discussion comes up about the importance of guests. Jesus tells his host, “When you give a…banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or…rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.”

Indeed, Jesus says, you should invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame, [and] the blind.” These guests would not be able to repay his hospitality, or yours. The man would, instead, be repaid “at the resurrection of the just.”

This theme was echoed by one of Washington’s most famous pastors, the Rev. Peter Marshall, who in the 1940s was the chaplain of the Senate. In a collection of his sermons called Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Marshall tells the story of an imaginary businessman who was reading his Bible one day and found the passage from Luke I just quoted. He made up engraved invitations to dinner and passed them out among the poor of Washington—men who were sick or out of work. On the appointed night, the businessman served his guests an elegant dinner. And then, he offered, in the name of Jesus, to help them any way he could.

This is the approach to hospitality we all should have. I live in a town where people put a lot of effort into getting important people to come to dinner—Congressmen, big-time lawyers, Supreme Court justices. But that’s the secular worldview at work—that we should honor those with earthly power.

By contrast, Christianity teaches that we should concern ourselves with the poor, the sick and the powerless. Scripture makes it clear that our help should not be limited to dropping off groceries at a food bank, or working in the soup kitchen once a month. Instead, we should invite the poor into our very homes and churches.

The next time you throw a party, don’t worry about hosting the smart set or the most important people at your church. Instead, invite neighbors who have lost their jobs and could use some cheering up. Invite someone from your office who is hard to get along with, and probably lonely. Invite the poor in your community—maybe that single mom down the street could use a night out.

Or perhaps you should call your pastor; maybe he knows an ex-prisoner who has joined the congregation and needs fellowship. Find out which families from church are going through a difficult time, and invite them over. Invite people who cannot repay your hospitality.

The Washington Post maybe won’t cover your get-together. But Someone far more important will notice, and rejoice. And you won’t have to worry about people not showing up. Your backyard barbecue will become a chance to minister to others—and bring down blessings on yourself.

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  • I have always loved that passage, where Jesus tells us to invite those who cannot invite us back. And I really think churches should pay more attention to it. I have also heard a number of single people say that they never get invited to meals at other people’s houses. And they feel that it may be because they cannot extend the invitation back. People do tend to invite people over for a meal, when those same people invite them over for a meal. Yet single people (particularly those that live alone) need those dinner invitations more.