This is such a beautiful little passage from the Gospel of Matthew. It’s pretty brief but it has quite a bit of depth. It’s almost like a meditation. So, if you wish, you can pause the audio version of my homily to take some time to ponder. And of course, if you’re reading it, you can just stop, close your eyes and reflect. You can even replay it or re-read it in it’s entirety, if you wish.
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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; 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.
Take a moment. Take a moment and think about a time when you made a gesture that made a difference for someone. It doesn’t have to have been anything grandiose. Small gestures make huge differences. Just as a meagre cup of cool water can make such a difference on a hot day.
Maybe a better way to start is to recall a small gesture that someone offered to you that made a big difference for you. Perhaps they made you feel welcome when you weren’t sure if you fit in. Maybe it was simply a smile that made you feel welcome and that the welcome was authentic and genuine. It doesn’t have to be some great kind of gesture, does it? A cool cup of water. A smile.
I guess the point here is about how that small gesture made you feel. And when you think about that a bit, it can give you insight into how your small gesture may have made another person feel.
So, think about how a small gesture to you by someone made a difference in how you felt.
And think about how your small gesture may make another person feel.
My hunch is that a small gesture pays dividends far beyond the value you and I may attribute to it at first.
This is a good thing since Jesus tells us that whenever someone welcomes us in this way, they are welcoming him. And similarly, when you and I welcome someone else, it’s as if we are welcoming Jesus himself too. And for both, there is the welcome of the one who sent Jesus.
Jesus is in the one we welcome. And Jesus is in us as we’re welcomed. It’s a pretty simple insight. But it is profound in its implications. Think about the impact of that realization in how a community relates one to the other.
Think about that when you encounter a person who is different: in colour, in gender identification, in faith, in political views, in ethnicity, and in any other way people strike us as being different.
Sometimes it’s challenging to offer a cool cup of water. But, remember your feeling when another made a welcoming gesture to you. Remember how a small gesture made you feel accepted for who you are.
As for the reward, that’s another thing. Most prophets were never recognized in their own time or in their own land. The reward of the righteous is already being in a right relationship with God. Offering a cup of cool water in the name of a disciple is already being a disciple. The reward is the gift of empathy. And the gift of empathy is to know deeply about how another person likely feels. What enables that insight is being in touch with what resonates in your own experience at the depths of your own heart as you encounter the other.
When you and I encounter the other at such deep, vulnerable and intimate levels, we encounter Jesus and we encounter God.
That’s what Jesus means when he tells us, “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- … none of these will lose their reward."