TEXT: Matthew 10:40-42
“… and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones … none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
Undoubtedly Jesus hoped that the hospitality offered to one of these little ones (whoever they might be) would not stop with a cup of water, but that more extensive hospitality might be offered. Remember, there was no Holiday Inn Express in ancient Palestine!
But sometimes just offering a cup of cold water speaks volumes about the one offering the drink. Back then it might have included an extra trip to the well to get a “cold” cup of water, as over against offering a drink from that jug of water that has been sitting out for several hours or days.
When Jesus refers to “one of these little ones,” he means the least of his followers. That is, these were followers who did not have positions of leadership or influence. They were those who might have been … not from the right family, or the right class, or race, or gender. But no matter, they were still followers of Jesus—people for whom he cared deeply.
Many theologians assert that the gospels display a preferential bias in favour of outsiders—those who are looked down upon or left behind by mainstream society. And that kind of bias truly does seem to be there.
Now, to be sure, that was always part of Jewish tradition. The Hebrew Scriptures make it very clear that “the poor”—particularly the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner—have rights as human beings, and must be treated fairly. Today, we might translate those categories into racialized persons, or indigenous Canadians, or refugees or temporary foreign workers or immigrants—perhaps especially illegal ones—and anyone living below the poverty line, no matter who they are.
But today’s text is not about liberation or money. It is about the importance of offering hospitality to those who are working as labourers in the harvest. How we treat God’s workers is indicative of how we welcome Jesus—which in turn demonstrates how we welcome God. Jesus goes through a list of categories of who might be included here. He begins with the welcoming of a prophet, then a righteous or godly person, and finally his “little ones.” To welcome any of these is to welcome Jesus and the One who sent him.
Today’s brief gospel text reminds us that Jesus identifies very closely with his followers. The New Testament is full of such reminders. Another one is the account of Saul’s conversion in the Book of Acts. I’m sure you remember it. Saul met the Living Christ on the road to Damascus.
Saul would soon become known as Paul, the Apostle. But on the Damascus road, he had arrest warrants in his pocket, hatred in his heart, and what he believed to be a mandate from God to rid the world of Christians. Then he heard Christ speak these words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus asked.
If welcoming a follower of Jesus is like welcoming Jesus … then persecuting one of them … is just like …
It’s just like persecuting him.
Earlier in chapter 10 of Matthew, Jesus said something similar. He instructed his disciples that, upon entering a village on their mission, they should note the hospitality offered individually and by the town. Since they were being sent in the name of Jesus, their treatment in a place would indicate whether its inhabitants were accepting or rejecting him.
In Jesus’ day, if a given follower had sacrificed much in terms of following him—perhaps even losing his or her family’s respect—that became their “taking up of the cross.”
Something we have to remember here is that those who might listen to this new message—or even be somewhat friendly to the messengers—sometimes also risked rejection and persecution. So, by offering a cup of cold water—or even a little bit of food—you were putting some important things on the line.
Jesus was well aware of this. That’s why he said, “Whoever welcomes a prophet … will receive a prophet’s reward.” In other words, those who offered such hospitality were as blessed by God as those who were traveling around, risking much for the cause of faithful discipleship.
When you understand and see the community of faith as a whole, then you see that leaders are no more blessed than those who have less visible roles. Acts of hospitality can be offered by anyone, but there seems to be special significance when it is offered as part of one’s faith response.
Having said that, many have noted that those of modest means sometimes appear far more hospitable to their guests—or to those in need—than are those who are wealthy. There is something beautiful in such hospitality, even when it makes us uncomfortable. Sometimes it is hard for us to accept the gifts of hospitality we are offered—especially when we know the one offering the gift has very little. Yet, in such a case, accepting the gift is so very important. It’s important because it affirms and validates the giver. It also affirms that—at the core of things—there is no real difference between us.
The giving and receiving of a cup of cold water symbolizes this for us. And so also, I would suggest, does the offering of food and drink at the Lord’s Table. Not that your physical hunger or thirst is likely to be much satisfied by a cube of bread and a thimbleful of grape juice … but, hopefully, the meager fare will do something for your spiritual hunger and thirst, even if all it does is assure you that—whoever you are—you are welcome in the community of faith.
Jesus said that anyone who serves others will be blessed. I often say that the way we treat each other translates into the way we treat Jesus. That should give us pause, knowing that whatever we share with others—even a cup of cold water—can remind them (and us) of the grace we have already received. Thanks be to God. Amen.