We have been looking at Matthew 10 for a few weeks now. It is Jesus’ commission to the twelve disciples before he sent them out. He tells them to preach that the kingdom of heaven is near, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to drive out demons. It quite some apprenticeship and, I imagine, a somewhat terrifying prospect for the disciples.
And it is not made easier by Jesus’ words. This is no pep talk to the team before a match, or a rousing speech to send the troops into battle. Jesus starts by giving them instructions on who to go to, what to say, how to behave. But most of chapter 10 is Jesus telling the disciples how tough it is going to be. They will experience opposition from the powerful, be arrested, be brought before kings and governors. Relationships will be broken by the message, brother against brother, children against parents… “All men will hate you because of me.” When you are persecuted in one place, move to another.
So, off you go, then. (Some of this clearly looking forward to the time after Jesus ascension, because we do not know of serious opposition to the disciples during Jesus’ ministry.) There is some comfort from Jesus, with promises that the Spirit will give them the words to say, that God the Father knows them and values them, that with God on their side, they have nothing to fear from men.
Then we come to today’s three verses. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me”. And those who did welcome them, in however small a way, would be rewarded.
We get the impression that disciples were a somewhat ragged crew. We know remarkably little about most of them. We do know that four or five of them were fishermen, one was a tax collector; we do not know about the rest. The gospels are remarkably honest about their failings, but do not say a lot that is positive. We know of their arguments, of Jesus chiding them for their lack of understanding, of them sleeping when Jesus needed them most, or them running away after Jesus’ arrest, of Peter’s denial. This cannot be the whole story.
Jesus chose the disciples, relied on them enough to send them out in his name. Relied on them enough, humanly speaking, to put the whole spread of the gospel in their hands. During Jesus ministry they did go out and preach “everywhere”. Without them, there would be no church; we would not be meeting this morning. He saw in them goodness, faithfulness, character that he could work with. They stayed with Jesus for three years, got to know him well, and he also got to know them well. They were, it seems, normal people, without privileged or promising backgrounds. Yet they became friends with the Son of God, and he trusted them.
What was the message they preached? “The kingdom of God is here”, but then what did they say? Luke says they were preaching the gospel [9v6], which does not help much either. It is tantalising. I wish Matthew had written down a bit more. Like Jesus’ conversation on the road to Emmaus; I would really appreciate it if Luke had it verbatim. I suppose the disciples’ message would have been based on Jesus’ preaching, some of which we do have recorded. But it would have been good to know more.
So, back to our three verses. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.” It was Jewish tradition that you treated an emissary as if they were the person they represent. There was apparently a saying that “He who receives a learned man, or an elder, into his house, is the same as if he had received the glory of God.”
Jesus is sharing his authority with them. It is a good example of delegation. No micro-management here. They go off in all directions, without Jesus to check on them. This is trust, and Jesus’ reliance on the Spirit to be working in them too. It is a message to us to allow people to do things, to take responsibility. Jesus gave them plenty of time with him to learn, both from what he told them but also from being with him. But then he let them go. It is a message to us, too, to be open to doing things for God. I very much doubt the disciples would have felt confident, ready, qualified, or able, but they went.
The last verse is “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (using the NIV version as it is a bit clearer). Calling the disciples “little ones” may sound a bit pejorative to our ears, but it seems to be a term of endearment. These were not, at least at this stage, great prophets, well known righteous men. They were humble people with open hearts.
Doing something as simple as giving those serving God a drink of water will not be forgotten. While the disciples could expect opposition, they could also expect support. There would be those who would recognise what they were doing, recognise God in them and respond. God will recognise even that small response.
Jesus’ words reflect the generosity of God. Not judgemental, demanding total perfection from us before we are accepted. Any movement toward him is welcome. Of course, he wants more, our full hearts given to him, but any movement towards him is graciously accepted.
Jesus’ words here remind me of some more later in Matthew. The chosen stand before Jesus at the end of time and say ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ He replies, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these [little ones] who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ [Matt. 25vv37-40].
So, be welcoming to those doing God’s work, to those who you see doing what is right, to those who need it. In a time of coronavirus, this may not mean opening your home, but a welcome may be a kindness, words of support, a gift, a meal given, even a thought.
Do it out of love, and the God of love will love you for it.
St. John & St. Stephen
Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV)
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”