He said also to the one who had invited him, 'When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.' -- Luke 14:12-14 (NRSV)
Recently, I read a letter to Dear Prudence in which the writer was complaining about giving candy to children from outside of their community. The writer notes that the children are "clearly not from this neighborhood," undoubtedly referring to their skin color or the condition of their parent's vehicles. The attitude of the writer is one where he or she doesn't want to be a social service agency and be a source of help for those less fortunate.
While we'd like to believe only a few people possess such feelings, the attitude of exclusion doesn't stop with the richest neighborhoods. This story almost seems unreal until we read the comment section of the article or hear stories from our own communities. Widespread exclusion is the dream or goal in many neighborhoods this Halloween.
Around the time I was reading the letter to Dear Prudence, I came across a social media thread from a Midwestern middle-class neighborhood where the residents are concerned with outsiders coming into their subdivision to trick-or-treat. In this online conversation, they devised ways to stop outside families from coming inside the neighborhood to gather candy. Some wanted to stand guard at the entrance to the subdivision as they don't want minivans full of children coming to take their children's candy. One man commented on how he would take watch leading me to wonder if his biases would cause further pain and suffering on the "aliens in the land."
Only miles away from this subdivision are communities of underprivileged people of color. Some have reputations of being dangerous communities, and maybe parents are looking for alternate neighborhoods to celebrate the holiday. Additionally, families who can only afford to live in apartment complexes do not have the same opportunities to trick-or-treat. They are forced to travel somewhere outside of their neighborhoods in order for their children to have the full childhood experience.
Which makes me wonder: Who deserves our candy? Who deserves safe neighborhoods to experience a happy childhood?
Is it the children we know? Is it the children whose parents earn about as much as we do? Is it the children whose skin looks similar to ours? Is it the children who were born to families who could afford to purchase homes over $100,000?
In neighborhoods this Halloween, the Christ-like attitude of hospitality is obliterated by attitudes of exclusion and fear.
Luke 14:12-14 reminds us that our call as Christians is to embrace those who are unlike us. It is not just an invitation but a mandate from Jesus the Christ to invite those who we wouldn't normally include. It's stepping out in faith to interact with people whose lives are radically different from ours.
There was a time when Jesus himself felt the urge to deny a child well-being. In Mark 7, Jesus is out of his element in Tyre, and a Syrophoenecian woman in the land asks him to heal her child of an unclean spirit. He initially tells her that healing is for those who look and act like him. But she challenges him, and Jesus changes his mind. In this transformative experience for Jesus, he opens his mind to someone different, and the lives of Jesus, the woman and her child are blessed by the encounter.
Furthermore, Luke 18 notes that Jesus said "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them." He didn't say "Let the children who look like me come to me." He didn't request that these children have a certain economic background, and he didn't exclude children of sinners and tax collectors.
On Halloween we have the opportunity to interact with the Christ in our midst as we extend radical hospitality to our neighbors and strangers. Will Christ be allowed into our neighborhoods this Halloween?