Krish Kandiah
Would you have dinner with Donald Trump?

It’s another Friday night emergency phone-call and as a foster carer I’m listening to my social worker describe a child that needs a temporary home urgently. It’s a heart-breaking story and unsurprisingly the child is displaying troubling behaviours. I have a room free but I hesitate. Say yes and my relatively peaceful life will be turned upside down and my family will be exposed to who-knows-what. Refuse and I am going against all I believe, as well as effectively snubbing a young victim of terrible circumstance and denying them hospitality when they most need it.

The choice of whether to accept or deny hospitality is a familiar one to those on the guest list for the state dinner with President Trump. Should they accept the invitation? Say yes and they risk being accused of endorsing the President’s policies and character or being tarred with the same brushes. Refuse and they would be snubbing a head of state and attracting the inevitable frenzy of critique. Oh the political challenges of dinner invitations!

The ethical dilemmas of hospitality have a long history. Two millennia ago Jesus himself faced criticism for the dinner invitations he chose to accept. He got in trouble when he ate with the right sort of people – the religious and political leaders of the time. And he got in trouble when he ate with the wrong sort of people: foreigners or tax cheats, sex workers and women. Jesus’ critics opined that his bad choice of dinner companions contaminated his character, and discredited his teaching.

But Jesus argued the exact opposite. Contact with him would not mean guilt by association but hope through transformation. It was not the leprosy that was contagious when Jesus was around, but his healing power. A greedy tax collector that lined his own pockets becomes a generous benefactor. A convicted criminal became a converted ex-criminal. Mealtimes with Jesus saw despair turn to hope, sickness turn to health, and doubt turn to faith.

Hospitality for Jesus never involved endorsement of wrong-doing, reputational risk management, or manipulation of optics, branding or popularity. Jesus did not no-platform those he disagreed with, or retreat to his affirmative echo chamber. Instead Jesus chose to eat with his opponents and critics. For Jesus hospitality was an opportunity to expose hypocrisy and taboo, shatter expectations and prejudices, offer second-chances, honour outcasts, and bring hope to dark places.

When we as the United Kingdom extend a welcome – whether to refugees or Presidents, for me it declares that hospitality will always win over hostility. To me it proclaims that we are not afraid of confrontation or contamination – but live with the possibility of transformation. To me it announces that we will not be ruled by criticism, but by belief in second chances, in hope and in redemption.

And so I accepted that Friday night emergency placement. Despite my hesitation, and the subsequent upheaval in my home, there was indeed transformative hospitality that benefitted me and my family as much as, if not more than, it helped that child.

This post first appeared on Krish's Facebook page.

For more on the shocking people Jesus chose to eat with, listen to this message by Natalie Williams, given at King's Church Hastings in April 2018.

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