"Holy Welcome" Bible Study on Matthew 10:40-42
June 25, 2020, 10:00 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Matthew 10:40-42 (New Revised Standard Version, hereafter 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.”

This Sunday we're at Matthew 10, a somewhat random collection of Jesus' teachings after his Sermon on the Mount.

The previous two chapters concern Jesus' ministry.  As Matthew 9 ends, Jesus gazes upon the crowds and has compassion for them because they are "troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).  So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, uses this as an opportunity for recruitment of disciples saying, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38, NRSV). 

We need wait no longer than the beginning of Matthew 10 to see Jesus' prayer answered.  Jesus sends out his disciples again, giving them "authority over unclean spirits, to throw them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness" (10:1).  The disciples are to "go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel" and announce, "'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons" (Matthew 10:5-8).

Through his disciples, Jesus is expanding his ministry.  They are his field reps preaching the same sermons that he preaches and doing the same good works that he performs.  Yet we also note that Jesus is upfront in telling them that they are to share in his poverty, his homelessness, and his dependence upon the generosity of others.  The disciples are to take no extra money or clothing; they are to depend exclusively upon others for shelter and nourishment (Matthew 10:8b-13).

And they are to be warned not all will welcome them graciously (Matthew 10:14-15).  There will be resistance because Jesus is sending them out "as sheep among wolves" (10:16).  The same opposition and hostility that afflicted Jesus will afflict them because (Matthew 10:17-23) "disciples aren't greater than their teacher, and slaves aren't greater than their master" (10:24-25).  Be warned!  Following Jesus could even lead to trouble within families.  Not all families will take kindly to Jesus' demand that his mission take precedence even over family decisions and businesses (Matthew 10:34-38).  Still, amid these possible risks and probable suffering, Jesus promises, "those who lose their lives because of me will find them" (Matthew 10:39).

The next couple verses are packed with the theology of welcome, the grace of hospitality.  Surely Matthew means for us later generations of disciples of Jesus to read his instructions to his first disciples forward to our situation.  Jesus still chooses to work not alone, to accomplish his mission through his obedient followers.  Jesus still gathers workers for the harvest in order to send them out in mission into a beloved but often rebellious and perilous world.  Disciples continue to be dependent upon the hospitality of strangers.  To those who dare to receive his followers in a hospitable way, Jesus promises rewards, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me" (Matthew 10:40, NRSV).  The reward is the presence of God's peace in Christ, both to the welcomers and the welcomed.

Then there's all this language about the prospect of rewards.  While Jesus doesn't often promise a quid pro quo system of blessing and reward, in this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus boldly says, "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" (Matthew 10:41, NRSV).

What sort of "reward" might these righteous prophets expect?  Matthew speaks about persecution (5:12), rejection (13:57), and death (23:30-35, 37) that the righteous may expect.  That's the way the world often treats tellers of the truth.  Even amid their persecution, the persecuted are urged by Jesus, "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Mathew 5:12, NRSV).

"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 (10:42, NRSV).  These "little ones" (in the Greek, mikros) have often been mistakenly thought of as children, but the phrase really refers to the newest disciples and even teachers, like the followers of Jesus who would be going out in mission.  The vulnerable, needy ones could be seen as the traveling teachers who are received with care and generosity and perhaps, given the risk of faith, a kind of courage.  The reciprocity experienced by the hosts and those they welcome is central to our life today in the Church.  Those who come through the doors of our church (and will do so once the pandemic begins to subside) and through the portals of the internet bring wisdom and richness just as much as they bring a seeking heart.  Those who welcome extend God's own welcome, and yet need to be open to receive as well.

Several questions arise in my mind as I think of the grace of hospitality and the openness of "holy welcome."  

Think of times in your life that you were in profound need of hospitaltiy, whether you were seeking a place of temporary rest or a place to call home.  Think of what you brought with you in those times, the gifts that you bore to share with those who welcomed you.  Were your gifts welcomed?

And then think of times and opportunities that you have had to welcome others.  Can you remember the gifts that they brought you, even as you offered your own generosity to them?  How does our congregation think of those who come to visit on any given Sunday, even now via the internet?

In the past, what learnings, what new insights, have those visitors brought?  Are newcomers and new members seen as potential solutions to problems, as possible challenges and opportunities to grow in unexpected ways, or as problems to be dealt with?

What is the risk in welcoming newcomers into our lives, individually and as a congregation?  What does this passage, and the larger discourse that includes it, teach us about being the Church "on the road," "beyond our own walls," not just settled and comfortable in one place?

Perhaps prayer and openness to God's extravagant welcome to all who we meet will point us toward clues in answering these questions.

Welcome & Blessings in the name of Jesus!

Pastor Greg Rupright

  May 2021  
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