4 Pentecost • June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14• Psalm 13 • Romans 6:12-23 • Matthew 10:40-42
In the Name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Gospel Lesson there are two distinct sayings of Jesus. Both sayings have the word “welcome” in them, and I suspect that is why Matthew put them together. But they make quite different points.
First, he addresses being welcomed by another person. It is not as simple as it might seem. He says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
For example, when we receive a phone call from a salesperson, and we like their pitch and welcome the call, we are welcoming not only that person but also the company they work for, the company that sent them. Perhaps you remember the Fuller Brush Man, who went door-to-door selling household goods, and was usually welcomed. Welcoming him meant that you were also welcoming the Fuller Brush Company that sent him.
It’s the same idea here, except that there is another one involved—the Father. This is the chain of “sendings”—God sends Jesus, who sends us. To welcome us is to welcome Jesus, which is to welcome the Father.
Jesus speaks elsewhere of a similar chain, this time of love. “As the Father loves me, so I love you, go and love one another.” Everything flows from the Father, through Jesus, to us, and beyond to whomever we deal with. Whether loving or being sent, it all cascades down from the Father.
I suspect Jesus is saying that we can have confidence. Others will discover God just by welcoming us. We are, after all, ambassadors of God; to welcome us is to welcome the God who sent us.
The second saying of Jesus in this passage speaks of rewards. We are often told by very wise people that to do good without the expectation of a reward is where virtue lies. Altruism—doing good for the sake of doing good—is the best way to live, some have told us.
We even have a lovely hymn that begins, “My God, I love thee not because I hope for heaven thereby…” This is a pretty sentiment, indeed. But it is not very faithful to the gospel. Whether you love God hoping for heaven, or you love God because you hope God will make you rich, or you love God trusting that he will protect you, or you love God because you are afraid not to—what counts is that you love, not the motivation.
This is equally true in human relationships. Whether you avoid killing that irritating motorist because you fear the law, or because you love humanity—neither motivation makes any difference. What counts is that you refrain from murder. Please, I know you are not murderous! I’m just trying to make a point, that what you do is what matters, not your motivation.
G.K. Chesterton famously said, “This is the greatest treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.” Nonsense! What counts is doing the right thing, whatever the reason.
Human beings, people like us, actually do act in the expectation of some benefit for ourselves or for those we care about. How could this possibly be wrong—it is reasonable and appropriate to expect a reward as the result of our actions. And so it happens. Smile, and you are likely to get a smile back—a reward. Yawn, and you will get a yawn back—a reward.
Jesus is never a moralist. He never tells us how to be good. “You have the Law,” he says, “obey it.” And he just doesn’t have anything more to say about being good. And indeed, we do know right from wrong; we know the laws, the statutes. the ordinances, and the canons; and we also know all those unwritten codes of behavior that we learned at our mothers’ knees.
Instead of being a moralist, telling us how to be good, Jesus is interested in our profiting, and in our being rewarded. Profit is about increase. Jesus is concerned “that we may life, and that more abundantly.” The good news is that it’s possible to be truly alive, lively, overflowing with vitality.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” This is not necessarily very good news. Prophets, those who see and speak the bald, unadorned truth, are not always well-received, even today. The prophets before Jesus, and Jesus himself who was also a prophet, were usually persecuted. This is not the kind of reward that we would welcome. But the true reward of the prophet is the ability to live in the truth, not the mist of mythology or story. And if we welcome true prophets, true truth-tellers, we likewise will have the clarity of the prophet. The same is true of the righteous—those who do right; they receive the reward of a clear conscience.
And he says, “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.” Here is the great leveling of the Gospel—God is no respecter of persons and all will be treated equally, whether great king or little child. To contribute to the aliveness of another, even a little child, even so little a matter as a cup of cold water in the heat of the day, is to receive the kingdom of heaven.