Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lectionary Notebook. Homily for Matthew 10:40-42

Homiletic Thoughts on the Gospel Reading 
Homily for June 26, 2011, Year A
Second Sunday after Pentecost
(See TEXT below --  Matthew 10:40-42)

The Lectionary Gospel reading for today offers us GOD's point of view on the service of helps and the ministry of hospitality in the Kingdom.

We might be tempted to think that our small work in the Kingdom goes unnoticed, but today's text dispels this false notion -- nothing done in Jesus' name for the sake of the kingdom is beyond GOD’s gaze and reward (Jesus's word not mine).

Of course, here Jesus' ministry primarily brings the Kingdom promised to the Hebrews to a climax with a legitimate presentation of the King, but we should not think that what is said here fails to have its application for us as well. In this homily I will attempt to bridge the gap between Kingdom presentation to those original hearers and our own twenty-first century ears.

The context of the text is important, and in his commentary on Matthew, Douglas Hare reminds us where this morning's Gospel finds it location:

"The concluding paragraph of this discourse returns to the missionary theme with which the chapter began. Nonacceptance was anticipated in verse 14 ('And if anyone will not receive you...'). Now the same verb is used positively: 'Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me' (v. 40).
There are three themes concerning hospitality I want us to think through in this text:

  • Receiving Jesus by welcoming the believer 
  • Receiving Jesus by welcoming the little ones 
  • Receiving the Father by welcoming Jesus 


"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me," reads the text, which proposes a somewhat different perspective on what many of us were taught about receiving Jesus.

Many of us were taught that you receive the Christ through, "asking Jesus into your heart," joining the church, experiencing baptism, receiving the table of the LORD. As important as these actions are, here St. Matthew brings a twist in the tail to these teachings, having Jesus talk about receiving the ones sent by the LORD as the basis for receiving him.

Of course, what is in view here is the Hebrew acceptance or rejection of the Kingdom offer by Messiah Jesus and by his disciples, but if we dismiss this as merely contextually significant -- that is not for us -- we miss what must be the most undiscovered theme of the New Testament. Namely, what the Christian faith ultimately offers is a koinonia community.

"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people." (1 Peter 2:10)
The question of receiving Jesus here is two-fold, I think:
1) Am I living Christ-like within my own community of faith (with those carrying my label), and     
 2) Am I living Christ-like toward believers not within my  own community of faith (with those not carrying my label) 
This is the movement from the 1st to the 21st century. The faith, ultimately, is not about Jesus and me, walking along the beach in the sunset and having a "one-on-one." No, ultimately it is you and me in community, receiving each other in Jesus' name, rubbing elbows in unity, even with all our foibles and follies.

This is difficult work, believe me. We are to love and respect and minister hospitality to those believers whose political views, for example, differ greatly from our own!

Believers have any number of substantial issues that divide us politically, racially and socio-economically, not to mention mega-church verses small church, post-modern verses traditional, worship styles -- high-church verses spontaneous and free-church verses episcopacy. The list could go on ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Have you ever wondered what the uninitiated, watching world sees when it looks at the Western expression of Christianity? How they must wonder at us. And how they easily pass us by, seeing noting more in our churches than what is already out there in the culture: fractured families, voracious attacks on each other, splintered messages.

Have you ever wondered how this must grieve the Almighty.

Remember what Jesus prayed to the Father:

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:18-21)
Clearly, the watching world legitimately rejects Jesus as coming from the Father since his community cannot be one. This calling to unity, sadly, has never been realized in the church, and it is not likely to be, at least not on a grand scale. But still the calling is there; the command is the there: We are to welcome the believer. We are to welcome in hospitality all who claim friendship with the Christ


Jesus also teaches us: "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."

To give a cup of cold water to the little ones, to the least of these, to those who do not count, even this will not go unnoticed within the Kingdom enterprise.

Oh sure, it’s not ministering to the great, to the prophets and the righteous persons. It’s not rubbing shoulders with the important people, but the little ones, the insignificant people, they too must receive our hospitality. Jesus wants even the little ones to have a place at the hospitality table.

I suppose the most famous 20th century example of this “little one” hospitality is Mother Teresa. She said: 

"I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?" 
 She also said, "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving. 
 And finally, "To God there is nothing small.The moment we have given it to God, it becomes infinite."
Said differently, the small ones reside all around us -- the forgotten ones, the ugly, the darkened ones. What we must see, no matter how important we are, or how important we think we are, what we must see is that we too are small and ugly and dark. We too are in need of hospitality. What this describes is a humility based upon the reality of the common koinonia humanity we share with each other, and with the Christ.


Finally, Jesus says: "whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me."

Ultimately, this may be the most important statement uttered by Jesus. To welcome Jesus is to welcome the Father who sent him. And, while this "receiving and welcoming" might seem axiomatic from the perspective or our own doctrinal teaching, what I want us to see is that to daily receive Jesus is deeply challenging.

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
This text haunts me. Sometimes it seems the road I am on is the narrow way, but then I begin to wonder and compare. Then I view my own cultural captivity and my membership in the exclusive North American club of power and prestige and possessions, and I wonder if maybe I've taken a turn down the wide way instead.

Here, in the simplest of terms, Jesus brings to the fore the key idea of his teachings: Hospitality. I am to welcome him -- which means acting on his teachings and practicing them as part of my life.

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock." (Matthew 7:24)
This reminds us that the response to the free grace of GOD, expressed within that community, is daily being conformed to the image of the Christ, who in his love for us gave himself for us. There is great power here in this daily cross-bearing, in this daily being conforming to the teachings of the Christ, in this daily hospitality toward the Christ.

Matthew 10:40-42
10:40 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.

10:41 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;

10:42 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."