By In Politics

Jesus at Dinner: Salvation Through Hospitality

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” –Jesus, Revelation 3:20

The old hymn commands, “let every heart prepare him room!” This is what a Christian is, after all: one who has welcomed Jesus. Welcoming has been part and parcel of Christian faith and practice since the beginning—first century Christians adopting diseased children, Paul instructing Philemon to receive his former slave back home as a brother, Jesus eating with the outcast, Israel welcoming the sojourners. Even if it isn’t easy to do, we can at least understand how to show hospitality to the weak and vulnerable. But God is not weak or vulnerable. How do we open the door of our lives to him? How do we “make him room?”

Mark tells the story (1:35-39) of Jesus being perfectly disciplined. He gets up early, he prays, he orders his time based on God’s mission rather than the opinions and needs of others. What does it look like to show hospitality to one so whole, so absent of need? Miguel Arteta’s beautiful new film Beatriz at Dinner gives us a clue. After her car breaks down at the home of a client, Beatriz—a new age massage therapist and holistic healer—finds herself stranded at an upscale dinner party.

At first glance, the movie is a contrast between Beatriz (Salma Hayek) and Doug (John Lithgow), a high-powered businessman. He is invited to dinner, the guest of honor, she is unexpected; he’s everyone’s employer, she’s an employee to his employee; he boasts, she demurs; he takes life—showing pictures of his prize kill from a recent safari expedition, she gives life.

Early in the movie, Beatriz weeps as she recounts that an angry neighbor killed her pet goat—“murder.” Throughout the dinner, Beatriz swears she recognizes Doug. Was he the man who built a hotel in her hometown that displaced a swath of the community? No, he’s too young. But how does she know him? By the end of the party, after proclaiming, “all tears come from the same source,” she looks Doug in the eye and mater-of-factly states, “you killed my goat.” On one level, the movie is about the conflict between good and evil.

The brilliance of the film, however, is found not in the leads, but in the near perfectly cast team of character-actors around the dinner table. As two radically opposing forces collide, we see tension, deflection, amusement, and horror in the onlooker’s faces. At its heart, Beatriz at Dinner isn’t about Beatriz or Doug at all; it’s about the guests at the dinner party, and the choice they’ll all have to make by the end of the evening. On the one hand, Doug offers power. Beatriz, conversely, offers the promise of healing, and healing in a way particular to each of them: cancer in one case, back-pain in another.

As the evening progresses, it becomes evident that what Doug and Beatriz have to offer is mutually exclusive. To whom will each guest show hospitality, Doug or Beatriz? While the woman who first insisted Beatriz come to the party attempts to straddle the fence, she too is forced to take sides. To get Doug’s approval, the guests must grovel—they must earn their place around the table. They can’t seem weak or vulnerable. They are valuable to Doug insofar as they’re useful, but not a minute longer. At one point, he jokes about leaving his third wife for a more attractive guest at the party.

Beatriz’s gift, however, is just that: a gift. It can’t be earned, only received. The difficulty, the predicament, the tragedy, is that no one can let down their pretense and airs to see their need—not now, not at a party, not when so much is at stake. To take hold of the hope Beatriz can offer (the unseen) requires abandoning that which Doug is currently offering (the seen). Alas, one can’t serve two masters.

Back to the Gospel of Mark. After describing how Jesus is whole, Mark immediately tells the story of a man who is broken (1: 40-45). When he encounters Jesus, the man isn’t told, as you might expect, to find healing by doing the good things Jesus just did. He’s not asked to earn his place in Jesus’ presence; he isn’t told how to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Rather, Jesus reaches down, out of pity, and heals the man of his leprosy directly. By running to Jesus the man was running away from every other form of salvation; he came bringing only his need, and that was enough.

Like Beatriz, Jesus joyfully comes to dinner, bringing healing with him. However, it’s not a given that we will welcome him. To the contrary, welcoming Jesus involves the painful, uncertain process of letting go of our pride and self-satisfaction. By showing hospitality to Jesus we’re necessarily neglecting those other masters in our lives who demand our complete loyalty and attention. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, ready to dine with us. How do we welcome him? One hymn tells us to “make him room;” another hymn—reminiscent of Beatriz at Dinner—tells us how:

“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, bruised and broken by the fall; if you tarry ’til you’re better, you will never come at all…. Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.”

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