Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 2, 2023

Matthew 10:40-42 Commentary

This is the end of a very long section on what the disciples will experience as Jesus sends them out to the harvest of need (Matthew 9.35-10.8 from a few weeks ago).

It seems odd to me that Jesus is saying this to the disciples. I mean, rather than the disciples, isn’t this the message that the communities to which they are going need to hear? So what does this message do for the disciples?

For starters, it lifts their eyes from the hardship and challenges, the possible successes and experiences of their calling to go out and heal, cure, and restore, and sets their starting purposes back in the Godhead itself. “Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus promises them, “welcomes me.” Ultimately, they are welcoming God. We do the mission, aid, and service works we are called to because they are invitations for us and for those we minister to— invitations to connect with the very presence of God, to welcome God into our lives and situations for healing, curing, restoration and so much more. The disciples have, albeit imperfectly and wavering at times, welcomed Jesus to lead their lives. Now, as they follow his leadership in word and deed, they will show their trustworthiness to the communities God sends them to—and thereby be living and breathing opportunities for God’s people to welcome God into their own lives again.

The Didache, or The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, is from the second generation of Christians (early second century) in Syria or Palestine. Among other things, it guides a community in how to practice what Jesus is describing here: how to welcome and treat an apostle, or traveling teachers and other Christians, because they carry the Apostles’ witness (the disciples that Jesus is sending out in our text).

All of the guidance in The Didache flows from its opening line: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.” The way of life is founded upon the great commandment, “you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.” The way of life, among other things, includes generosity, hospitality and taking personal responsibility to work. The way of death is made up of all the evil things including those characterized as “from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners.” In other words, the destructive way of death is greedy, selfish, and lazy.

The key to discerning a prophet, teacher, or apostle who comes in the name of the Lord, then, is in what they do—not just what they say. Listen, The Didache advises, to what they teach and receive them as from the Lord according to the instructions in the Gospels. But, if they prove themselves false through their actions, send them away. Here are some of the signs:

Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet…But not everyone who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known… every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet… whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him…

Scholars believe that this focus on character shown in action was especially important in the early stages of Christianity’s establishment since there was no formalized ecclesial structure or agreed upon canon. It’s also the same sort of posture we see in the New Testament letters.

All of this is to say that attempting to keep the generous spirit of Christ’s hospitality and live as proof of promise that his people will welcome his messengers, while safeguarding against abuses and those who would seek to take advantage of goodness, is not a new challenge. Being meek is not the same as being naïve. And the best way to find your way and discern between the invitations that someone is presenting is to look at who they have invited to be the center of their life—if they have welcomed Jesus Christ and the Father, then their life will show itself in the fruits of righteousness, the way of life epitomized in giving “even a cold cup of water to one of these littles ones.”

Textual Point

What is a “prophet’s reward” and the “reward of the righteous”? It seems that their rewards are the callings themselves. Eugene Peterson’s The Message captures how many commentators have understood Jesus’s promises: “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

Illustration Idea

One random Sunday at church, a group of believers quite different than our average worshipper joined us—these guys even had a shofar with them! Afterwards, they told me that they had gotten off the ferry and asked the Holy Spirit to lead them to the church they were meant to attend. (I lived in a hub city on Vancouver Island and these guys were headed to surf on the other side of the Island.) They stopped and prayed in the parking lot of a church near the ferry terminal but discerned that that wasn’t their stopping point, so they left and kept driving. It turns out that God wanted them with our church that morning. Anyway… they joined us for worship and after the service we always offered prayer time for anyone in need. There was a guy who had been in and out of our community, someone a bit on the fringes of all of his communities, and he was one of our regulars for prayer. To be honest, our prayer team felt like we were always missing the mark a bit with him, through miscommunication and not malice, we felt like we weren’t praying for the things he really wanted or meant. In come the shofar guys who also join the morning prayer time. It didn’t take long for me to deduce from their words and actions that these fellas were there to minister to this man. Our prayer team stepped back and watched them bless him. At one point they were even lifting him in the air, crowd-surfing style. I’d never seen that man so calm and happy. The shofar guys asked for nothing, didn’t push any agenda, or expect to be given any significance; they seemed to simply follow the Spirit that morning with a message of love for a weary soul. And just like that, the church building emptied and we all went our separate ways. I hope that we welcomed them in the name of the Lord, and that, because we did so, a member of our community received “a prophet’s reward.”


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