So we finally come to the end of Matthew Ch 10 after 3 weeks. It would pay to read the whole chapter at once and reflect on where we have been going these last weeks. To recap briefly. On the first Sunday of ordinary time, we found Jesus sending out the apostles (as they now were) to proclaim the Good news of the kingdom of God; if you remember I asked for what are we praying when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ and suggested that this cornerstone of Jesus’ teaching has a personal and social dimension. We heard briefly from Etty Hillesum, who lived through very dark times which ended with her losing her life in Auschwitz, took responsibility for making God credible in the world.
Last week we looked at the challenge of what we call the Good News, how it does not quite seem to be what we imagine when talking of good news – that Jesus comes not to bring peace, but the sword – I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. (10.37) These are tough, challenging, provoking words. We are asked to think about the peace that we want – a peace not built on the shaky foundations of compliance or accommodation to the status quo, but on the sure foundations of transformed lives and changed systems. It is a risky, reckless peace that Jesus brings – a world turned upside down and lives inside out.
And so, to this the final week – much shorter than the previous two; a few short verses that end this section of teaching. This week too as the Old Testament reading, we hear from Jeremiah confronting the prophet Hananiah; he was a prophet of the establishment, reassuring the people that all would be well and that the exile to Babylon would end. God’s purposes had been fulfilled. Just the message that everybody wanted to hear- comforting and reassuring. Jeremiah comes along with a different message – not of comforting words but of hard truths and of the need for people to change.
What we read in Matthew 10. 40 is Jesus telling his disciples that whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. He gives them the authority to teach but also the reassurance of being welcomed. They are receiving welcome – not welcoming others but receiving welcome themselves. And they are being welcomed as bearers of this Good News that is not exactly good news but rather tells of the need to change, to think and live differently. As Jesus said, there will be those who have ears to hear.
I wonder if Jesus said that to encourage them. Yes, their message would be hard for people to hear and would cause controversy, sow seeds of division and lead to clashes with the authorities, but Jesus says where you are welcomed, I am welcomed and with a look ahead to the wonderful parable at the end of Matthew’s Gospel ( Ch. 25) he continues 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.
The disciples are receiving welcome. So where does that leave us? Most times we think of ourselves as the bearers of the Good News, the people who have a hopeful story to share and we want others to discover the effervescent joy. But what if for once we place ourselves as those who have a responsibility for welcoming / receiving the good news of the Kingdom? Of people who no longer wish to listen to the reassuring voices of the likes of Hananiah, but rather have heard a new story that breaks the impasse and changes the course of history.
As we emerge from this time of lockdown and try to make sense of where we go from here, there will be those voices who wish to soothe and reassure that things can return to normal. A bit like the voice of Hananiah to the troubled people of Jerusalem, who were wondering what the future would look like. But through these weeks there have been hints of how things may be different; we have cherished the work of those who new have discovered to be key workers; who have kept the lights burning and the wheels turning. Will we continue to cherish them and ensure that is reflected in well invested public services?
There has been a massive impact on the economy and we do not yet know the scale of the damage; are there ways that any recovery can be stimulated through some sort of a green new deal that would tackle some of the problems that we face around the climate change while generating jobs?
Can we continue to show the same compassion to those people living on the streets and find long term solutions to their housing and other social needs? The Government has done well on this issue through the pandemic, but there will be many pressing demands on resources in the months / years ahead and the most vulnerable can easily get lost.
Through this time, we have discovered the importance of neighbourliness, looking out for each other, and sharing the responsibility for us all staying safe. Can we continue along that same path and maintain that sense of togetherness?
At the same time, real stresses have been highlighted with the hugely different impact that the virus has had on different groups – black and minority ethnic groups and those living in poor areas. In other words the persistent and enduring inequalities that scar our society have been laid bare. Through Black Lives Matter we have heard the voices of those protesting about the racism of our society. Are we brave enough to hear these voices as good news to which we are called to respond?
Are we willing to take the risk and reap the rewards of extending hospitality to God’s provocative, discomfiting, and truth-telling messengers; the messengers will not always be those from our Church communities but that maybe even more reason to pay attention and be prepared to share a cup of cold water to these little ones.
What about ourselves? Are there things we have learnt during this time of enforced quiet that we want to hold on to? New habits made, new patterns of prayer discovered, or new priorities kindled? The call to change, to respond to the invitation of Jesus to hear and welcome the Good News is a call for ourselves too; to sing a new song and open hearts to the wonder of God’s love for us all and to ensure that in all our ways we blossom with the fruits of the spirit and that our lives embody love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Galatians 5.22).
Do we dare believe such a Kingdom is possible for ourselves and the world around us? We better had or else get ready for the next catastrophe.
Revd Jonathan Morris
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Matthew 10:40-end