Luke-Acts, (In)hospitality, and the other: What if we revise the story?

I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for each new episode. Malcolm Gladwell recently completed the first season of his new podcast entitled Revisionist History. In each episode, Gladwell retold fascinating tales of past events that he believes should have carried more enduring impact.

He encourages us to consider his recurring adage, “Sometimes the past deserves a second chance.” Gladwell produces his “what if?” tales not simply to have us ponder the past, but consider the present. What if we get a second chance? What if we could continue the (hi)story?

Could it be that in/hospitality might serve as a defining mark of our Christian lives? Click To Tweet

To this end, I’ve become increasingly attentive to the way in which we think about and respond to the other, the person we hear of in our daily news. I have in mind divisive words like migrant, refugee, black, Syrian, immigrant, police, terror, gender, and the “wall.”

It recently occurred to me that a helpful lens might be to weigh whether my response would be one of hospitality or inhospitality.

Could it be that in/hospitality might serve as a defining mark of our Christian lives?

Since I spend a good deal of my devotional and professional life in Luke-Acts, I set out to read Luke’s story of Jesus and the new people of God as a response to the question: what if we would rewrite Luke’s story as revisionist history?

I found the exercise both sobering and invigorating. So take your Bible in hand and follow along.

The third gospel

What if the young virgin receives the prophetic voice of an angel only to consider the challenges, the danger, and the potential fallout of God’s call to carry Messiah / Son of God? What if an old and tired, yet pregnant woman, refuses to offer three months of room and board to a pregnant virgin? (Luke 1)

What if Jesus’ home town friends receive his inaugural sermon not simply as the words of Joe’s boy, but fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy? (Luke 4)

What if Jesus follows societal protocol and chooses not to recruit the money-mongering tax collector? What if Levi prepares a banquet for Jesus only to have Jesus back out due to outside pressure? What if shocked religious leaders walk into Levi’s home and entertain Jesus’ words? (Luke 5)

What if Jesus rejects the invitation of a Roman military officer to visit his dying servant? What if Jesus chooses rigidity to Torah and refuses to approach the bier of a dead man, the only son of his widowed mother? What if Simon the Pharisee accepts the loving response to Jesus by a woman of ill repute? (Luke 7)

What if Jesus, on a mission to the home of a synagogue leader, ignores the bold move of a hemorrhaging woman? (Luke 8)

What if Jesus’ burgeoning disciples cannot give up the comforts of home in order to take Jesus’ message on the road? (see also Luke 10:1-23). What if Jesus accepts the advice of his disciples to destroy the Samaritans after they reject his message? (Luke 9)

What if the man who throws the parabolic banquet invites the “marginalized” ahead of the “finer” guests? (Luke 14)

What if the parabolic father closes the door on his departed son never to entertain the possibility of a return home? What if the parabolic older son shares in the joy of his father on the return of a wayward brother and son? (Luke 15)

What if Jesus chooses not to receive the one grateful response of a former leper and Samaritan? (Luke 17; remember Luke 9:51-55; Luke 10; see Acts 8)

What if the rich ruler hears the demand of Jesus to fess up to self-absorption and share his wealth with the poor? What if Jesus affirms the rebukes of fellow journeyers who seek to halt the desperate cry of a blind man? (Luke 18)

What if Jesus sees only a conniver and dismisses an opportunity to dine with yet another despised tax collector? (Luke 19)

What if Jesus blows off the meager gift of the underprivileged widow? (Luke 21)

What if Jesus eats his final meal with his disciples only to predict his death, tell of their pending failure, and give up on them? (see also Luke 22:54-62). What if Jesus’ teaching concerning “love of enemies” takes root before the impulsive disciple slices off the ear of the high priest’s servant? (Luke 22; remember Luke 6:27-36)

What if Jesus turns a deaf ear to his fellow “criminal,” a bandit who sees in the dying Jesus one last attempt for revelation and mercy? What if Joseph allows fear to overwhelm his desire to provide a proper burial for Jesus? (Luke 23)

What if two dull and distraught disciples from Emmaus choose not to invite a wandering stranger into their home after a full day’s walk? (Luke 24)


What if Peter fails to initiate fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy of barrier-breaking inclusivity on the day of Pentecost? What if the disciples leave new recipients of Jesus’ message without food, both spiritual and physical? (Acts 2)

What if Barnabas chooses to hoard his wealth and neglect the needy? What if his counterparts, Ananias and Sapphira, share their wealth with humility and integrity? (Acts 4 + 5)

What if the apostles fail to see a community on the verge of schism over food distribution among Hebraic and Hellenistic widows? What if the apostles do not have the foresight to choose seven men with Greek names? (Acts 6)

What if Philip flees the persecution at Jerusalem only to choose silence and fuel the past histories between Jews and Samaritans? And what if Peter and John – representatives of the entire Jerusalem leadership team – choose not to receive the Samaritan believers? What if Philip’s new converts in Samaria refuse to receive Peter and John? What if Philip appears suddenly and miraculously in front of the unclean African and chooses not to share the same good news that he had heard from the apostles of Jesus? (Acts 8)

What if Ananias chooses fear and refuses to entertain the former violent opponent, now a newly commissioned messenger? (Acts 9)

What if a centurion, both generous and devout, rejects the prompting of God to open his home to a Jewish evangelist? What if Peter ignores the triple vision to receive the hospitality of a Gentile host, who responds with immediacy to God’s prompting? (Acts 10-11)

What if the Antiochian community refuses the word of the Lord to offer famine relief for the believers in Jerusalem? (Acts 11)

What if Rhoda and the house of Mary give into fear and ignore the knock of a stranger, their beloved preacher and escaped prisoner of a bloodthirsty egomaniac? (Acts 12)

What if the first great council of the church chooses exclusivism rather than ecumenism? What if the designated requirements for community remain so stringent that few are able to embrace the new message? What if Barnabas accepts outright Paul’s rejection of a young and fledgling missionary apprentice, John Mark? (Acts 15)

What if Paul turns down the hospitable invitation of the Thyatirian business woman? What if Paul and Silas see the earthquake only as an opportunity for escape? (Acts 16)

What if Paul takes the accusations as a “babbler” to heart and gives up on the philosophical melting pot at Athens? (Acts 17)

What if Paul the prisoner finds house arrest overwhelming and allows the ever-divided response to the gospel only to say “I can’t do this anymore”? (Acts 28)

Concluding observations

As I reflect upon my recent reading of Luke-Acts, it’s impossible to miss the centrality of hospitality in the story of Jesus and his first followers.

I see a story with constant twists and turns about insiders, who must choose to assume God’s posture and exhibit lavish invitation to outsiders.

I read of outsiders, from outcasts to terrorists, who receive a second chance due to the neighborly response of individuals and communities.

What if we allow fear to guide our response to persecution and terrorism?

What if we address our ethnocentrism?

What if we turn away the marginalized?

What if we respond with compassion to the homeless, the refugee?

What if we share our goods, our resources, and our skills?

What if we open ourselves to be refugees for the sake of the gospel?

What if we reject the gifts of the marginalized, the refugee, and the poor?

The future of the gospel rests upon our response to such questions. Our response is the Gospel!

In the spirit of Malcolm Gladwell, I suggest we consider the implications of a revisionist reading of Luke’s story. Our response to the other must continue to be a story of vulnerability, interdependence, service, and mutuality!

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About the author


Martin Mittelstadt grew up in Winnipeg and currently serves as professor of New Testament at Evangel University in Springfield, MO. In his spare time, Marty hunts for rare books, enjoys hockey, bird watching, and photography.

About the author