When I first re-read this passage last night, I thought “good Lord, it’s the ‘love map’ reincarnated.”
And this, on the surface, is a love map. However, whether or not it IS The Love Map, it is certainly a map of another time, a map of another place. If you just read it, cold with no context, here in 21st-century America, I can almost guarantee that you will get lost somewhere.
Why? Well, fortunately Jesus isn’t talking in obscure parables that we have to sift through, but he is using language and an analogy of the time that frankly doesn’t really exist anymore, not with any sense of continuity, anyway.
So, to set the scene, Jesus is talking about relationships and, more specifically, the relationships of diplomacy. There was an entire culture surrounding envoys and messengers, that has evolved into things like “diplomatic immunity” which often seem like a thorn in a host country’s side, more than anything, at least according to primetime police dramas.
In the time of Jesus, envoys and messengers were protected, but it was more than that. Or, rather, it wasn’t quite so simple.
To receive an envoy is to receive the person who sent him (messengers/envoys were exclusively male). So, if I’m a general at war in a desert region, in my sumptuous tent with next-to-no wine to drink and my army dying from dehydration, and an envoy comes–how I treat this envoy depends on how I view who sent him. If I welcome him with open arms, give him my limited fruit, pull out his chair, then I am showing such hospitality to the one he represents. If I cut his throat and then steal his water canteen, well, I might as well have cut the throat of whom he represents, because I just made my intentions very, very clear. There are, of course, reactions between these two extremes, but they all mean something, they all send a certain signal.
Having explained that, let’s get back to the Gospel of Matthew.
10:40a. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.
Translation: if Jesus sends someone in his place, a follower, a friend, a believer, then if s/he is welcomed where s/he is sent, then so is Jesus. If I, as Rev. Averill, show up at your house (wearing a mask, etc.) and you invite me in for a cup of tea, then–in this–you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.
10:40b …and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Translation: So, Rev. Averill is social distancing on your porch, drinking tea, you’ve invited me, which means you’ve invited Jesus. But this is a chain. Because you invited in Rev. Averill and Jesus, you invited in the one who sent Jesus… or, God the Father.
But it just doesn’t end there. Jesus isn’t just talking to his disciples. He’s talking to all of his followers and friends throughout human history until the end of the world–whenever that may be. And it’s not just limited to Jesus, whom God has sent. Hasn’t he sent others?
10:41a Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.
God, throughout history, has sent prophets to his people. Jesus, as Messiah, is not only a priest and a king, but a prophet. But there are ranks of prophets. Moses and Isaiah are definitely a cut above those prophets in the Old Testament whose names we can never seem to remember, even if we’re trying to memorize all the books of the Bible. Elisha was a servant to Elijah: both were prophets, both were great, but Elijah was a tad bit greater in the scheme of things. So, if you invite in a prophet (who, if tradition follows, could look like a crazy man from the desert who hasn’t eaten properly in years–so this isn’t the easiest or perhaps safest thing for a person to do) then you’re accepting all the prophets who came before… Isaiah, Daniel, Elijah, Moses, and on and on and on. And where do prophets come from? Who sent them? Answer: God the Father.
What’s a prophet’s reward? Clarity? Judgement? Faith in God? Foresight? Depends on the prophet…
But it’s not just prophets that God sends…
10:41b …and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.
Same thing, ultimately. We can’t all be righteous, not all the time. No one, even if they claim to be, is righteous 100% of the time since birth, or indeed right 100% of the time. But God sends those who are righteous to others… he sends these emissaries and to receive the righteous, to accept that what they say about God is true, is to receive certainty in this knowledge. With this knowledge, a person gains the righteousness of God. Disclaimer: This all sounds marvelous and it certainly is. But don’t let it get to your head. Righteousness can lead to false pride and vanity. The messenger who came in righteousness did not shove it in your face, so don’t turn around and shove it in other’s.
And to conclude…
10:42 …and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of the little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
(One.) “cup of cold water”. This may seem like such a little thing, but this is huge in a desert culture. Water is precious, water is holy, and cold water… that’s something that can be hard to find in a desert heat. To give a cup of cold water is to give not only hospitality but to give life itself.
(Two.). Jesus, for all of his perfections as our savior and faults as a human man, has always loved children. We see that such kindness to children is deeply valued by Jesus. He has placed the “little ones” on the same levels as the righteous, prophets, and emissaries for God the Father and Himself. I think it that says it all.
The Map in Three Verses
So what is Jesus saying? He’s saying that if he/God the Father sends someone, that this person should be made welcome. This messenger, this bringer of truth, may come in various forms, but to show favor and hospitality is him/her is to show favor and hospitality to God.
Jesus doesn’t just speak to us through the words of the Bible. He isn’t just the “still, calm, quiet voice” that I often talk about. He comes to us through messengers, through envoys, we just have to pay attention. They may be angels dressed in light or a homeless person on the street. If we listen and show every single person basic respect, no matter how much they irritate us, no matter how much we disagree, we may hear Jesus’s words coming through their lips.
Of course, we may not.
However, if we didn’t listen in the first place, how would we know?