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).