As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not generally a big fan of the lectionary, and I don’t tend to preach from it on a regular basis myself for a variety of reasons.
However, on the request of a friend, I thought I’d take a look at this week’s Gospel reading. These are merely my musings. They are not meant to be anything definitive. There are too many good commentaries available for that. Still, if it turns out well, this may be a thing I continue. So, here goes:
Sunday, June 29 – Matthew 10:40-42
40 Ὁ δεχόμενος ὑμᾶς ἐμὲ δέχεται, καὶ ὁ ἐμὲ δεχόμενος δέχεται τὸν ἀποστείλαντά με. 41 ὁ δεχόμενος προφήτην εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου μισθὸν προφήτου λήμψεται, καὶ ὁ δεχόμενος δίκαιον εἰς ὄνομα δικαίου μισθὸν δικαίου λήμψεται. 42 καὶ ὃς ἂν ποτίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ποτήριον ψυχροῦ μόνον εἰς ὄνομα μαθητοῦ, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ.
40 The one who receives you receives me, and the one who receives me receives the One who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones merely in the name of a disciple, truly I say unto you, that person will never lose his reward.
There are a couple of things that stand out as I read this passage.
First, on the heels of talking about the sacrifices entailed in being a disciple, of giving up father and mother, son and daughter (10:34-39), Jesus now lists some of the benefits of following Him.
As disciples of Jesus, we have a new family, a new community. And if we are truly followers of Jesus, we should warmly welcome all other disciples of our Lord.
This language of hospitality stands out. That repeated word δέχεται (receive) echoes throughout this passage. And it clearly conveys the notion of welcoming and inviting into one’s home, of offering a friend a seat at the dining room table and providing food and drink, of preparing a room to stay the night in as well.
All of this is understood in that word “receive.” Classical Greek and Roman literature is full of stories talking about welcoming and receiving guests and strangers using just this language of δέχεται. So, Jesus tells us that we ought to be hospitable and welcoming to one another as Christians.
Second, we note the reason why we should welcome them. We welcome them not because we know them, but because they know Jesus. To welcome them is to welcome Jesus in them. Likewise, to welcome the Son is to welcome the Father. So, when we receive fellow Christians as guests, we are also welcoming the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into our homes. This is an act of communion.
Third, I can’t help but notice the “in the name of” (εἰς ὄνομα) language. Jesus keeps saying “in the name of a prophet,” “in the name of a righteous person,” “in the name of a disciple.”
I suspect the RSV and NIV are right when they render that “because he is a prophet” and so on. The Greek seems to have the sense of “If you receive this person as what they claim to be.”
That is, it may turn out that this person isn’t really a prophet or isn’t really a righteous person. They could be a false prophet. They might be only pretending to be holy and devout. In fact, they may not even really be a true disciple at all.
Still, that doesn’t matter. If they are lying, that is their problem. The sin is on their head, not yours. Your job is to welcome them as what they claim to be.
So, if you welcome a visiting Methodist preacher and feed him Sunday dinner and then it later turns out he wasn’t a preacher at all, let alone Methodist, that’s okay. You still get credit for having shown hospitality to one of God’s ministers.
Likewise, if you welcome in a traveling Methodist and give her a place to stay the night only to find out later she isn’t even really a Christian, that’s alright. Your act of grace is still as if you did it unto the least of these.
Which is probably the last thing to note. That “least of these” line does not refer to the down and out, or even little children. In context, it refers to the “in the name of a disciple” later in the verse. The “little one” is the “disciple.”
That is, we as disciples are not only the children of God, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, but we are also the small, the weak, and the vulnerable in a world that doesn’t play by the Father’s rules. We are all pretty easy to take advantage of if we really follow Jesus faithfully.
So, Jesus says, there is great grace in offering even the least of help, a cup of cold water (not even a meal or place to stay the night, just a cup of water), to any disciple we may meet. Even if you can only spare them $5. Even if all you can do is offer a prayer of blessing over them. Whatever little you can give, give, and Jesus will see it and certainly bless you for it.
Of course, all of that raises the question: Who are we welcoming? To whom are we extending grace? To whom are we offering hospitality?
And likewise, who are we letting welcome us? Sometimes, it’s easier to give grace than to receive it. So, who are you letting show you hospitality?