But what would we eat???
The incorrect (and hospitality-withering) notion behind such a query is that when one opens one’s home to guests, one should field a spread for which emperors of Rome and kings of England would pine, so drab would their palace fare be by comparison.
But let me commend a simple theological corrective:
Don’t do that.
And let me be clear: I am not saying, “It’s OK if you can’t blow the doors off the pantry every time you entertain.” Instead, I am saying:
Don’t do that.
Let’s lay up some scriptural warrant for this claim, along with some theological commentary. First, Luke 10:38-42 (NIV):
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Now, the midrash.
Notice that the scripture indicates (v. 39) that it was Martha who opened her home. Notice further that the scripture characterizes Martha’s behavior (v. 40) as “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Notice finally Jesus’ observation (v. 42) that “few things are needed–or indeed only one.” Jesus’ remark should not induce a Billy Crystal-like mystical meditation on what is the one needful thing??? Instead, it should cause us to bump into this telephone pole truth of Works of Mercy:
The purpose of a Work of Mercy is to mirror the love of God into the world.
So here’s the lightning bolt of truth:
If you change your menu because you are hosting guests, you have lost focus and become distracted by all the preparations that now have to be made because you have lost your focus.
In contrast, opening your home as a Work of Mercy means asking the question:
Without changing what is already planned for dinner, how can I mirror the love of God into the world?
That is the one needful thing.
So do not read this blog post as my effort to comfort you if your cherries flambe does not burn evenly from one end of the dining room to the other.
Instead, consider this my challenge to you to embrace a whole new way of thinking of the Work of Mercy of opening your home:
When you open your home, focus on opening your home.
Don’t focus on transforming your dinner menu. The Lord’s presence within–and your revealing of it–will take care of that all by itself.
But remember this: If you cook yourself silly in the kitchen to impress guests, you will have distracted their attention–and yours–from the one needful thing, namely, the presence of the living God.
This is the brilliant insight of Monseigneur Bienvenu, the bishop in the musical, Les Miserables. The bishop’s mastery of the one needful thing is evident in his simple, unadorned invitation to the grace-famished Jean Valjean.
Read, and then let us both go and do likewise:
Come in, Sir, for you are weary,
And the night is cold out there.
Though our lives are very humble
What we have, we have to share.
There is wine here to revive you.
There is bread to make you strong,
There’s a bed to rest till morning,
Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.