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40”He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41”He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42”And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (NASB)
[Mt 10:40] “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
These are amazing verses! In three simple verses Christ defines the role of church for all time. When you look at these verses you will find the role of the church as a whole and the members of the church as individuals. You will also see there is no role for “spectator” or “commentator” in Christ’s church. Everyone has a role, everyone is a participant. However, more than anything else, we see that the central role of church and the central role of each member lays in the concept of “receiving and welcoming.”
Indeed, one could accurately measure the effectiveness of followers of Christ, a church or a nation who proclaims to follow Islamic, Jewish or Christian traditions by their ability to receive and welcome the stranger. Since that is the case, we should spend more time examining the history and tradition of this concept of “receiving the stranger,” for in so doing we receive Jesus and—our Lord remarks—“Him who sent me.”
The Hebrew’s concept of receiving a stranger or hospitality to the alien (immigrant) was one of their greatest moral obligations. Welcoming the stranger was at the root of their history as a people. It started with Abraham’s sojourn to find a home for his people and culminated in the patriarch seeking a place to bury his wife, Sarah:
2And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, 4”I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5The Hittites answered Abraham, 6”Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.”
This wasn’t Abraham’s land. He was an immigrant sojourning upon the Hittites land (one of the eleven Canaanite tribes, purportedly descended from Ham, son of Noah). It was courtesy (and a little bit of wheeling and dealing) that allowed Sarah to be buried there.
Hospitality to the immigrant lies at the very heart of the Hebrew (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) identity. Our hospitality to others reflects upon the God who brought us out of anonymity and bondage and gave us instead a heritage of faith and—finally—salvation. To receive the stranger is to show gratitude to God:
17For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. 22Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.
Here is what God says must set his people apart from other nations, “they execute justice for the orphan and widow” and “love the stranger, providing them food and clothing.”
In fact, the very definition of “the wicked” in the Old Testament was:
2Rise up, O judge of the earth; give to the proud what they deserve! 3O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? 4They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. 5They crush your people, O LORD, and afflict your heritage. 6They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan, 7and they say, “The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.”
The wicked are described as being arrogant, crushing the Lord’s people, killing the widow, stranger or murdering the orphan—this is what it meant to “afflict God’s heritage.”
In Isaiah 58, the prophet links the strength of a people to the compassion they have for the hungry and homeless:
6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Jesus himself was an immigrant child whose parents fled political and religious oppression. When Mary flees Nazareth and went “with haste” to visit her aunt Elizabeth in the Judean hill country [Luke 1:39], she was fleeing religious oppression. This was also the case when she left for Bethlehem with Joseph. If the religious elders had known of her “condition” she would have been stoned to death.
When the Holy Family flees Bethlehem for Egypt, they are facing political oppression from King Herod. Is it any wonder then that, for Jesus, receiving, welcoming and caring for the stranger was what divided the blessed from the accursed?
34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
What is the “state of receiving” in my heart today? In our churches? In our nation? In the following verses Jesus will tell us about the role of followers, but this verse tells us about the role of church. If we are to find strength as God’s people (church) or strength in our own personal walk with Jesus, we must re-encounter this ancient concept of radical hospitality, “welcoming” and “receiving” the stranger, homeless, sick, imprisoned—the “least of these.”
41”He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward;
The term for prophet [GSN4396, prophetes] is a product of two words: Pro [GSN4253], meaning forward and phemi [GSN5346] which means to claim or declare. A prophet “forward declares” or “forward claims.” Have you ever been forward claimed? Did a grandparent, parent or other adult keep you in prayer? Do you have someone who asks the Lord to watch over you; to forward claim you?
We must not think that prophets are boistrous people that harangue passers-by with the message that “the end is near.” In fact, we are most prophetic when we claim a person or a people in the name of God and then do all we can to be their advocate.
I remember asking the people in a rest home where I led a bible study to pray for the kids I worked in the juvenile center. They were elderly, many had handicaps, but they were great pray-ers. They were “forward claiming” lives; they were prophets.
While these people were “prophets in wheelchairs,” the tradition of prophets is to go out into the community, to be “good news to the poor [Luke 4:18].” We are prophetic when we are forward claiming those who are lost by inviting them into God’s banquet. Not a “someday banquet” of heaven, but the immediate banquet of a church that welcomes the least little one. Prophets do not just talk about what will be. They speak about what must be—beginning today.
The term “reward” is sort of deceptive it should really be “wage [GSN34O8 mithos].” The prophet recieved a wage for work completed. He/She did what was expected, the result was not a “surprise” or “reward.”
9“He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”
If we do what we are called to do—as followers or a church—we don’t really have the right to pride or some sort of Christian elitism. We are only doing what we are supposed to do. An employer doesn’t give an employee the day off simply because he/she showed up for work. The employer doesn’t say, “You’re so wonderul, you have a job and all these other folks are unemployed.” Instead, the employer says, “The worker is worthy of his support [Mt. 10:10].”
The Lord is true to his promises. If we do our proper work we will receive our wage.
Receive a prophet
So far we have learned the roles of the welcoming church and the pro-claimer. Now Jesus speaks about others who will receive the prophet’s wage. First there is the one who receives a prophet. This involves providing a prophet with both physical and emotional support.
Here we are speaking of the prophet’s physical needs. Prophet’s were called to live simple—not extravagant—lives. Jesus put it like this:
8“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 9“Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. 11“And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city.”
We can recognize someone as truly prophetic because they have a burning focus on God’s message and not on worldly things. “Enough to get by…” might well be their motto. However, the last thing we ever want to do is treat a prophet poorly.
12“As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13“If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. 14“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15“Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”
A physical friend to a prophetic person is someone who gives without asking. It is not the one who says, “if you need something, let me know,” because a prophet rarely thinks about his/her needs—a prophet is consumed by the task at hand. A good friend can be measured by how he/she recognizes a person in need and quietly goes to meet that need, often anonymously, always graciously.
There were many such supporters of Jesus during his earthly life. Consider the “ministering women” in Jesus’ life:
1Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.
It is a hard concept for us to wrap our arms around. We might support someone who leads our congregation, runs for public office, or preaches self-help mumbo-jumbo to millions on television. Yet, true prophets usually an institutional rarity. Why? Because their role as “forward claimers” leads them out among the least of these and not among the well-known, well-heeled or well-off. Dorothy Day, the prophetic founder of Catholic Worker, once said that the role of the prophet is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
That’s a qualification that rarely looks inviting on a resume. We support the prophetic because they reminds us that the way of the Lord is rarely comfortable, convenient, or culturally accepted. We support them because they prick our conscience or challenge our ideology. In short, because they listen to the whisper of God and not the roar of the prevailing wind.
A prophet doesn’t need to be coddled but remaining prophetic—in any culture—can be a lonely task. Prophets need deep friendships and intentional solitude, a mixture hard to find in a rushed and shallow society. The prophet’s role is, by nature, often marked by polarities and dichotomies, at times cajoling and then condemning. Prophets motivate people to change and condemn structures that use people to get things. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated it like this: “It’s a kind of man who combines very deep love and very powerful dissent, painful rebuke, with unwavering hope.”
Such a life leads to deep commitment but also a sense of alienation. The alienation is not a result of being “better than thou,” but due to the burden of a cross-cultural message. Look at the loneliness of Elijah, one of God’s greatest prophets:
I Kings 19:9-14
9Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
11He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD “ And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about friendship, he had this to say, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Therein is the heart of prophetic friendship and what it means to “receive a prophet,” it means standing up for the prophet when the rest of the world advances against him/her. In the book of Acts, a man named Jason shows what it truly means to welcome a prophet:
5But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.
6When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.
When the people of the city cannot locate Paul, they set upon Jason (Paul’s host) and bring him to trial in the prophet’s place.
Do we welcome the prophets of our community? Of our time? Do we recognize them—the ones who speak against systems that undermine the dignity of people? Or worse yet, are we offended by them? Are we with Jason or with the “wicked men from the market place?”
A second trait of a prophet (first was his/her focus on the message leading to a simple—if not austere—life) is that they do not comfort an unjust culture. Their words don’t “tickle the ears.”
2 Timothy 4:1-5
1I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
To “receive a prophet” is a demanding task. Standing by someone when they are applauded and when they are attacked is not easy, that’s why those who do it also receive the “prophet’s reward.” Like Jason in Thessalonica, they might not be the person “out front,” but they can’t hide behind a prophet’s wings when trouble brews. They stand up and stand out on the prophet’s behalf. Will we do that? Will our church do that? If we do we will receive the prophet’s reward.
41band he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.
A Righteous Man
Two concepts almost always appeared side by side in the Old Testament, justice and righteousness.
“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
Justice (HSN6666 tsedaqah] and righteousness [HSN4941 mishpat] were concept and practice combined. Justice was the concept (what the prophet would preach) and righteousness was the action (what the righteous person would do). The prophet’s words were meaningless without the righteous person’s response. When one preaches to no response, the sermon is superfluous. The preacher may use impressive words and majestic phrases but it is little more than vanity or what Solomon referred to as a “dust devil in the desert.” The prophet must move people to action and the righteous person must act on the stirrings in his/her heart. Those stirrings are the Holy Spirit and they must not be squelched.
The righteous person receives the prophet’s reward because he/she hears and heeds the call to action.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
In fact, in Matthew 12, Jesus tells us that his mother and brothers are those who do the will of the God. They are family because they hear and heed, not because they have any birthright or went to the same synagogue as Jesus attended.
46While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.”
48But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”
49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers. 50“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Do we act on what we are hearing? Do we hear the words of justice or see the acts of injustice and “make things right?” If yes, we are in line for the prophet’s reward.
42”And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
A Cup of Cold Water
Here is the final role of a follower in the church of Christ. The whole church focuses on being a welcoming and receiving place for the widow, orphan and immigrant. The Prophet “forward claims” those whom he/she finds on the street, the Righteous Person does work to alleviate injustice and finally, we have those who practice radical hospitality. Radical Hospitality!
Everyone has a role in Christ’s image of church! If we are unable to go out and claim the lost or address what is unjust, then we need to be the welcoming presence that extraordinarily embraces those who the prophet and the righteous person bring to the congregation.
I can tell you—from personal experience—that this is the hardest aspect about being prophetic or doing works of justice. It is terribly hard, when you have recovered a life on the street or in a jail, to find an accepting congregation who will embrace the least accepted and most rejected and, even more, embrace them radically.
Radical Hospitality was exactly what Jesus was preaching when he commanded us to give a cup of cold water to the little one. Cold water was not easy to find in the Middle East at our Lord’s time. You wouldn’t have any in the house unless you had just returned from the village well in the early morning. The water in the house would be tepid and Jesus clearly said “cold water.”
A host or hostess might run to the well for a visiting dignitary—a rabbi, a king or a priest—but certainly not for a “little one.”
That term “little one [GSN3398 mikros]” meant not only a child. It meant the “least of these,” a forgotten widow, an abandoned orphan, a harassed immigrant. A cup of cold water for them? Unheard of! Insane! Radical! Completely Jesus! Yet, there it is folks; the role of the church and the role of her participants. Everyone has a part and the parts make the whole greater.
This message is so pertinent in our time. So many churches have forgotten the role of Jesus Christ to be “good news to the poor [Luke 4:18].” However, do the poor call our church good news? Do the poor cross the street to tell me their good news? Am I a participant in a righteous church or a self-righteous church? Does my church seek out and welcome in the least of these or are we just gathered for our emotional needs? Am I in the streets forward-claiming lives and alleviating injustice? Am I showing radical hospitality to the widow, orphaned and immigrant or am I constantly bemoaning the state of the world and wagging my tongue in gossip instead of lifting a finger to help?
We need to pray that God will help us become a prophetic church again, a church filled with passion, purpose, and radical hospitality.
About the Author
Jerry Goebel is a community organizer who started ONEFamily Outreach in response to gang violence and youth alienation in a rural community in Southeastern Washington. Since that time, Jerry has worked with communities around the globe to break the systemic hold of poverty by enhancing the strengths of the poor.
A primary philosophy of ONEFamily Outreach is to teach; “poverty is a lack of healthy relationships.” And, a primary focus of ONEFamily Outreach has been to break down the barriers of poverty through creating “cultures of intentional courtesy.”
As well as having developed ongoing mentoring outreaches in his own community, Jerry travels extensively to work with church leaders, community governments, and educators.
Jerry has received five popular music awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a Best Educational Video Award from the National Catholic Education Association, and a lifetime achievement award from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry for living Gospel Values.
To contact or book Jerry for a presentation in your area write or call:
The New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Thayer’s and
Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the
“Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” These files are public domain.
The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver,
Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the “Theological Word Book of the Old
Testament.” These files are considered public domain.