40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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; 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.”
Finally, a lectionary passage that seems straight-forward! The passage this morning has a theme of welcome. We welcome folks well here, and I think most folks consider themselves pretty welcoming. I know I do, most days at least!
After reading it in context, we must remember that the disciples were not welcomed in all places though. Because of their breaking of social norms, of welcoming the stranger, hanging out with those on the margins, and generally shaking up the status quo by following the example of Jesus, they were often excluded.
So, Jesus is trying to encourage them by saying that if they are welcomed by anyone, then they are also welcoming Jesus personally, and God as well! That’s a powerful statement because those in power sought to divide and define who was welcomed by God, but Jesus was subverting that notion.
Jesus goes on to say that those who welcome prophets, will receive a reward, and a righteous person will also receive a reward. Well, speaking prophetic words can actually lead to some pretty harsh things, just look at the history of prophets. Life seemingly doesn’t end well for them. And, righteous people? You’ve heard the expression, “nice guys finish last”? Maybe so, yet, what the author is saying is that the rewards are a life well lived, culture changed, empathy grown, and peace of mind and heart for doing and being in right relationships and working for the common good.
Being a welcoming presence can be costly, but it’s worth it. Especially in these days of so much uncertainty in our lives and in our culture. Welcoming others can be a key source of healing and growth.
I’ve seen folks who model this in so many ways.
The first time I went to Nicaragua, we did “home stays”. Our group was split up into groups of 3 and we spent the afternoon and, about 24 hours, with a Nicaruaguan family. They welcomed us, gave us the best beds, made sure we were well fed. The family that we stayed with took us out to a restaurant and bought our meal. When we ordered, only one other person in the family ordered. At that point a few other neighbors and family members had also come. The meal was delicious, and it only cost $2. As I was looking at all of the folks there, I had $50 in my pocket, so I offered to the patriarch of the family to buy everyone’s meal. He was very polite, and said, no, you are our guests and tonight we want to welcome you. I realized later my arrogance and privilege, and simply said, thank you and received the hospitality. And, as hard as it was to eat while folks did not eat, and realizing that most Nicaraguans only get to eat a couple of times a day, and that the average weekly salary is only about $10-$20, I received so much in terms of community, conversation, and growth. In Nicaragua, I learned again the growth that I can receive by letting go of my privilege and receiving welcome from others. They taught me, and continue to teach me, what it means to be in community with others.
In India, where I spent three weeks right before formally interviewing here, a group of us went to the border of India next to Bangladesh outside of Kolkata. We did a series of 5K and 10K runs across the country to raise awareness on women’s issues and human trafficking, starting on the border. After our run, the local village government and others gave us a huge a welcome and presented us with flowers and a presentation with amazing food. Here’s a scene from that day:
What is amazing is that these kids were rescued from human trafficking, dance and being in community has given them healing and growth. And, they wanted to welcome us.
Friends, both of these experiences, and so many others where I have had the blessing of extending welcome and receiving welcome, has made me a better person, just as I’m sure many of you can related.
In this world of division, of shutting others out, of privilege and non-privilege, may we cross barriers and extend welcome and hospitality, and receive the rewards of becoming the better versions of ourselves, to become more like Jesus!