Matthew 10:40-42

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 25, 2017.

This passage comes at the end of a long conversation between Jesus and his disciples, where Jesus assures them, and presumably every Christian that comes after them, of his unending presence and blessing despite the many challenges that will certainly come along. Coming at the end of that conversation these four verses can feel anticlimactic, even a little confusing. But there is an interesting logic for those with the energy to work through it. This logic reveals to us something about what it means for God to be with Christians, what blessing looks like amidst those certain challenges.

Much of the passage revolves around the notion of reception, of Jesus, prophets, disciples, and so on. A proper translation will emphasize what is being received and why it is being received, “whoever welcomes a prophet because she or he is a prophet” and “whomever welcomes a righteous person because she or he is a righteous person” such that what is being received, and hence what is being credited to the one who receives, is prophesy and righteousness. Jesus has in mind here those able to receive prophesy/righteousness because they can both identify genuine prophesy/righteousness and have room in their lives for its goods. According to this logic, Jesus seems to be saying that those are the kind of people who can make room for God in their lives. And those able to receive Jesus will also be able to receive the disciples who advance Jesus’ cause of prophesy and righteousness: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple…” What Jesus praises is precisely the quality of identifying and receiving prophesy, righteousness, discipleship which betokens the ability to identify and receive Jesus and his disciples. In this way, v. 41-42 simply follows the logic set forth in v. 40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (NRSV).

The passage presses on toward the theological implications of what it means to receive prophesy, righteousness and in turn Christ’s prophetic and righteous disciples. Because Jesus mediates God’s prophesy, righteousness, and discipleship, receiving Jesus entails receiving prophesy about God, righteousness from God, and discipleship in obedience to God. In Matthew’s thematic emphasis on God’s kingdom, Christ is emissary, and the passage invokes Jewish emissary customs. But it also goes beyond those customs because it holds that Jesus is not simply a prophet or representative of righteousness, but himself the one about which prophesy testifies, himself the source of righteousness, the king who is owed any disciple’s allegiance. The one who goes in Jesus’ name completes a line of authority that begins and ends with God.

The passage is a welcome word to those itinerant ministers that worked in the Matthean church’s sphere of influence. We can picture Christians entering towns and homes with what they believed to be the greatest message in the history of the world, excited, yet also uncertain as to whether strangers would receive, or reject, that message and hence receive, or reject them. Can you imagine yourself, or your church members, in this role? You see and sense a person’s possible openness; they seem to be interested, their lives appear ready for all that you have to offer (all of its blessings, all of its hardships). But, you are not sure. Because your message makes demands upon them, there might be offense, or worse. But they also may tell you that they have been waiting for this message, for you as a messenger, their whole lives. The stakes are high, as high as those demands; there can be no higher stakes.

This encounter is pregnant with hope and worry, fear and faith, the expectations of eternity encapsulated in a moment. It is also an encounter that has occurred time and time again throughout Christian history, and has instantiated itself wherever the Christian gospel has gone, from the time of these Matthean Christians, to the missionary journeys of Paul, in the work of the Eastern and Western churches, all the way to itinerant ministers on horseback in colonial America. Probably your church members have lived this encounter. Perhaps they are living it now, with a coworker or a neighbor down the street; maybe with a stranger, or with a family member. Matthew 10:40-42 finds Jesus telling them, “You are not alone. This is not finally about you. You may be asking a lot of this person, this community, these people, but in asking them to receive your message, you are asking them to receive nothing less than me, and the life I have to offer them. If they should reject you, they are rejecting me. But if they should receive your prophetic word, your righteous goodness, your invitation to obedience, they are receiving more than they could ever dream or imagine.” For Jesus, this word is more than reassuring. It is true. And reassuring because true.


Jonathan Tran
Associate Professor of Religion and Faculty Steward of Honors Residential College
Baylor University





Tags: hospitality, relationship, righteousness, prophesy, reassurance

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