Matthew 13:1–9 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Sower
(Mk 4:1–9, 13–20; Lk 8:4–8, 11–15)
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
Matthew 13:18–23 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Sower Explained
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
No matter how many times I hear a story from scripture they still amaze me. The Parables of Jesus are some of the greatest stories of all. This is exactly what they are, they are a story. Jesus used his imagination and the scene surrounding him and he wove an impromptu narrative to illustrate a point. A story is probably the greatest tool we have to transfer ideas from one person to another. The art of storytelling is also one of the oldest art forms. Long before a written language was developed various members of the prehistoric tribes would gather together and listen to one of their elders tell a story. In ancient Gaelic cultures, the storytellers or bards were some of the most educated members of society and their entire livelihood was provided by their lord. The bards made their living through the teaching of the people through story and verse. The reason is because a good bard would be able to weave a story together that would be exciting, mystifying, engaging, and profound all while sitting around a fire. And the people longed for these stories. They wait with anticipation for the next instalment just like we wait through the entire summer enduring week after week of reruns till the season premiere of our favorite show airs.
The story is powerful. And our story, the story of our journey through life is one of the most powerful tools God has provided to you. The blessings you have received provide those we speak to hope in their own lives. The struggles we endure allow others to look at their own struggles with the anticipation that their suffering can come to an end. Our triumphs provide encouragement and our failures are filled with grace. You may not think that your story is that interesting but as the storytellers of one of my favorites shows say, “There are no insignificant people.”
The story in today’s passage is one of the most recognizable parables of Jesus, probably second to the story of the prodigal son. This parable is one that speaks to me in many ways because it speaks directly to the essence of who I am. As much as I try and as long as I have lived in the city I will always be a farm boy at heart. I must get outside and view a horizon every so often or I develop anxiety. Occasionally I must get my hands dirty to reconnect with my roots. I love the musty smell of the soil just after a gentle shower, and to watch the wind create waves in the sea of wheat. When I say Jesus withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, I understand. He went out in the wilderness away from all the distractions of the busy cities in which he ministered and he found rest. This year’s theme for the Ministry conference, The Way in the Wilderness, connects with this idea which is probably a good thing because you cannot get much more remote than Haviland Kansas.
There is a reason that Jesus speaks of the sower and the seed. It is a powerful image that can be etched into our minds and hearts. To grow food connects our minds, bodies, and our spirits to creation. To participate in the production of grain, fruit, or a vegetable forces us to realize that we are not in control. There are forces at work that we cannot always overcome, yet we can participate with nature to manipulate a desired result. I use the term manipulate for a reason even though it may sound negative. I use it because to be able to manipulate we must have an intimate knowledge of the subject to be able to create a desired environment. But even our greatest efforts will not overcome every possible contributing factor.
Jesus speaks of the sower, or the farmer, out in the field spreading seed. I imagine there is someone off in the distance doing this sort of work as Jesus speaks. I imagine that there are some in the crowd listening to the words that Jesus speaks and gazing off into the distance watching the farmer out in that field carefully and methodically throwing handfuls of seed onto the tilled earth. They listen to Jesus words, they watch the farmer. They look at the path leading through the field and up the hill, the very path they walked on to listen to this teacher, and they watch the birds gathering and pecking at the ground gathering the seeds the farmer may have overthrown. (The practice of spreading seed by hand is more of an art not a science.) Then they look at the expanse of the field. They notice the deep dark earth and the lighter soil as it progresses to the hills. They see areas where there are more rocks than soil and they notice piles of stones in the distance that the farmer had removed. They see an area near the edge where weeds and vines seem to be encroaching on the carefully maintained soils of the field. They listen and hear the rhythmic swoosh of the seeds leaving the farmers hands and they watch as a cloud of seeds rain down onto the various features of the land below.
Then Jesus explains. The seeds that fell on the rocky soil quickly sprang up but as the sun came out they withered and died because they did not have a root. The Seeds that fell in the thorns grew and were choked out, the seeds on the path were eaten by the birds. And the seeds that fell on the good soil grew, they provided a yield.
Imagine the image that Jesus has given us. Some of us can imagine it because we have visited a farm or have made some sort of attempt to grow a garden. If you have done any of those things then you might grasp some of the concepts that Jesus is bringing up without even speaking them. If you have not ever tried to grow a garden then it may be more difficult to imagine, and I strongly encourage you to try next spring so that you might have a better understanding of the things Jesus speaks.
If you are out in a plot of land, it doesn’t matter how large, you will see characteristics of the soil that will speak volumes about the potential of yield. Every soil has a color, imagine any color and there is a soil somewhere in this world that is close to it. That color can tell you a great deal about the soil and if it is something that will produce. Just so you know that crazier the color chances are you do not want to grow a garden in it, you might want to get as far away from some of the colors because of the elements causing the hue.
If you were to feel the soil with your hands, you might notice the moisture content, the textures and the smells. It might be a deep brown or black, but you notice that it is wet even though it has not rained in several days, you might notice that a couple of yards away the color is lighter and it feels like there is sand mixed in. Each factor affects the potential of growing a crop.
Imagine this as you consider the words that Jesus spoke. All the elements that Jesus spoke about affect the potential of yield. Soils are hard, rocky, filled with weeds, pestered with birds and rodents all wishing to steal your potential yield, and you are there trying to provide food for you family. Often, we look at all these factors and we think of them as absolutes rocky soils will always be rocky, good soil is always good soil, and bad soils are always bad. If you look at this story that Jesus told and think that I ask one simple question why is the farmer out there?
One of the most striking images of Ireland that I have seen are the beautiful green fields stretching across the land outlined by stone walls. I have only seen these in pictures because I have not traveled to that green land. But why are the fields lined with stone walls? If you were to hope in a time machine you might be able to see the progression of those walls. As soils are tilled occasionally a stone will be pulled up with the hoe or plow. The stone will cause problems with the crop so if they are found the farmer will carry that stone to the edge of their field. As time progresses eventually these stones eventually build walls. I am sure there is more to it than that but I have carried a few stones out of a field so some part of it is true. Eventually with each stone removed the ratio of rock to soil in the field changes and the field turns from poor soil to something better.
Soils can change. We can work with nature to manipulate soils to move land that was once undesirable to something that can produce an abundance of food. If lands are dry we can build irrigation systems, and terracing systems that help retain moisture. In some areas, we might realize that the soils or environment is not suitable for certain crops so we change the seeds. Many factors are involved and as we have become more aware of nature we have been able to provide more food than ever before.
That is great right. Soils are amazing and we are glad that we have a pastor that has a degree in crop and soil sciences so he can get excited about this silly little parable. If soils can change, if we can find ways to manage the soils and environment to produce food what does this say about the rest of creation or you?
If we were to look back through the story of your life you might have experienced a time where you were so busy that the seeds of faith never had a chance to take root before they were snatched away. There might be a time where you thought you had faith but the roots encountered rocks and withered away. Maybe worries of life began to choke you stealing the light and nutrients from you so you were unable to bear fruit for a season. Look at your life. Each of us have had trials, blessings, good times, and times we would never wish on anyone. Look at your life. Were there people out there sowing seeds? Were there people out there helping pick up rocks so that you became aware of the things holding you back from your true potential. Were there teachers or friends that helped you determine that a certain choice you had made might not have been the right one for your personality, so you change careers or studies? Look at your life the story of your life. Look at all those people you encountered in some manner that had helped you get to this point. Those people like the farmer in Jesus Parable worked the ground they knew the ground and they loved the ground. They did everything they could to prepare the ground and coax the very earth to bear an abundance of fruit. But even the best farmer, even the person with the greatest green thumb we know cannot control it all. The farmer like those in your life look at what the spirit is doing in the environment and they respond. They say a kind word, they give a gift to help you through a rough patch, and they allow you to cry on their shoulders. They bring soup if you are sick and they pray for you. They knit hats for your baby, and the sew quilts for your wedding. Every action they do is a seed planted or a stone removed so that the spirit of God can take hold and grow within you.
Consider your life, consider all who have gone before those saints of old that encouraged you, and those friends that still do. They are all a glimpse of the greater truth and hope that resides in Christ. Who came from heaven to live among mankind. He lived with us to show us what true life with God was, what the abundant life is, and what we were created to be. He showed us a lifestyle different from those our world offered, a lifestyle of mutual profit and a holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and service to each other. He showed us this life and then he encouraged us to live it out. And we quickly realized that life is hard. Jesus showed us hope in this way; while we were still sinners or people living opposed to God Jesus died for us, providing grace and redemption. He was crucified, and buried and on the third day he rose again to life. Why? Because we need to know that there is hope. That God is a God of second chances and when we fail there is still life. We are not bound to failure and death because Jesus lives. Because he lives no matter how many seeds were wasted on my life one might take root and yield an abundance of Fruit. And that life, that flicker of hope and love that blossoms around us is what gives us joy. The gardener participates with nature to bring about something beautiful. Consider your life, and consider all those who have help you along the way.
Matthew 11:16–19 (NRSV)
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Matthew 11:25–30 (NRSV)
Jesus Thanks His Father
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Life is difficult. After the brief time in which I have lived, I have found that everything I expected happens in unexpected ways. Things would be so much easier if I could plan every nuance of my life. Of course, life would then be boring. What fun would life be without those unexpected bumps in the road? I really wish the road would be repaved at times because the bumps seem to happen much more than I would care for.
The past few weeks we have discussed the commissioning of the disciples to participate in the ministry of Christ in a different way than before. In the first phase of discipleship they simply listened, watched, followed and asked questions. The second phase Jesus encourages them to take the things that they had observed and learned and apply them in their own life as they go out to carry the message of the kingdom in their community. These disciples believe their rabbi, Jesus, was the anointed one, the one they were waiting for, the one who was to restore the kingdom of David to a dynasty that would have no end. Yet the crowds did not always have the same response. They were called children of Satan, or a pile of manure attracting flies.
We might not think too much of this but it is really a big deal. The anticipated Messiah was the one person everyone wanted to recognize and to be follow. The rabbis for centuries had poured over the scriptures to the point that when King Herod questioned where the Messiah was to be born, they could quickly quote scripture to answer the question. These scribes and Pharisees knew their scripture, they knew what to expect and they were carefully watching and adjusting their lives to welcome this holy guest and provide him with the appropriate honor.
The scribes and Pharisees are portrayed in the gospels as the antagonist of the story. They are always at odds with Jesus, always out to prove something and always shown to be the ones acting as fools. They knew what to expect they had spent the better part of their lives studying everything they could about the Messiah that was to come, just as many of us study and pour over scripture to find all the knowledge we can about the return of Jesus. They had all this vast knowledge of the Messiah, yet when the Messiah came they missed it. They worked against their anointed king because they miss interpreted what the anticipated kingdom was to be. They had this image in their mind, this portrait of perfection, and when life did not work out how they expected they did all they could to defend their tradition.
Even John the Baptist began to question what he was observing. John the Baptist, was a cousin of Jesus. He baptized Jesus and heard the voice of God announce that Jesus was God’s son and in whom He was pleased. John knew Jesus. He knew him from before his birth and many scholars believe that Jesus spent the largest portion of His personal ministry working with John. John and Jesus worked together, John even acknowledged that his personal ministry should diminish as Jesus’ grew. Yet John found himself unexpectedly in prison, waiting for his impending doom. John experienced all this he correctly acknowledges himself as the voice crying in the wilderness preparing the people for the coming of the long-awaited king to be revealed. Yet John’s faith faltered. John once said to his disciples behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, not while he sits in prison he asks, “are you the one or should we be looking for another?”
Why does even the voice crying in the wilderness ask this question? The reality they observe does not fully resemble the expectations they built. Life is hard. Faith can be shaken. And even the most devout disciples can be wrong.
Our first passage today comes after Jesus answers John’s question. The question that every religious person of that day was asking. And Jesus describes to them what He observes. He says, “But what will I compare this generation?” How will I describe this age? What do the people of this nation resemble? Jesus realizes that the expectations are not parallel with the reality of life. The fact that their expectation is skewed is not really a problem because that can always happen. How we respond to the disparity of our expectations to reality reflect our true character.
Jesus likens the people that day to children playing a flute in the marketplace, or a crowd wailing. There is a certain expectation to these activities. A musician plays music with the hopes that it will inspire people to respond. The greatest profit a musician can receive is that those listening to their music will be moved to such a degree that they will abandon themselves to dancing. Likewise, when people wail, when the express utter sorrow, they expect to move those around them to respond in a comparable manner. Both comparisons are about performance. The wailer is a performer, they are there to inspire and to move people to sadness. We get a glimpse of this when Jesus visits Lazarus’ tomb, and the wailer follow Mary out of the house to Jesus. One inspires great unrestrained joy, the other utter sadness. There is an almost scientific expectation to these performances. The first century Jewish people had these performances down to a professional art. The flute players could nearly command their listeners to do their bidding, as could the wailers. Jesus likens the people of his day and of his nation to these professional emotional manipulators. They knew, they anticipated, they observed. They could play one note and they would know the exact response of the audience.
What Jesus is saying is this generation had researched the coming Messiah to such a degree that they had devised a complex and complete picture of their expectations. They had observed to such a degree that they knew exactly what to expect. But what happens when the audience does not dance to the flute? What happens when the expectation does not coincide with reality? They did not adjust their expectation they blamed God of being wrong. Even though John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was the anticipated one, even He the forbearer was willing to say, “Nope clearly Jesus is not the right one because he doesn’t fit the picture.” Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
When John questioned Jesus, when he asked if Jesus was the one or if they should wait for another, Jesus answered by saying, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” This might seem like a strange answer to a yes or no question, but what Jesus was doing we speaking to the skewed expectations of the generation. The people expected the Messiah to be something. The reality was the Messiah was to do something. They wanted him to be the king, but the Son of Man came to restore the broken to life. Even John the Baptizer had skewed expectations to the reality of Jesus. Even the disciples were given reality checks throughout Jesus’ ministry. What Jesus is telling them is all the knowledge in the world is worthless unless that knowledge is put into action. All the expectations of what should be are worthless unless we start putting those things into action. What good is a king of Kings and Lord of Lords if the world is still broken? If Jesus does not restore life to the broken then the anointed Messiah just like David would eventually be betrayed by one of his closest.
We all have expectations and often those expectations are at odds with reality. We all have hopes and sometimes those hopes are misplaced. The reality is that our mission as a church, our mission as disciples and Friends of Jesus is not to force the world into compliance to some expectation we have perceived through careful studies of scripture. Even if that expectation wonderful and something I hope becomes a reality. Our mission is to restore the broken to life, our mission is to bring hope to the hopeless.
This is where the second portion of today’s scripture comes into play. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Life is hard. We all have faced challenges that have nearly broken us. Some of us have faced more than others. We carry these burdens on our backs and they cause us pain. Sometimes this pain begins as spiritual pain but it can manifest itself in actual physical ailments. These burdens come from various places. Expectations we receive from our culture and society. Expectations we have on ourselves. Expectations and responsibilities, we receive from our families. Some of the burdens are a result of hardships we have faced. Maybe our income does not cover our expenses, so we feel as if we have failed. Jesus is telling us, He will give us rest. The sense of the word used here is a ceasing of activity that results in a feeling of refreshing tranquility and an absence of tension or worry. Come to me he says I will give you refreshing tranquility and remove the worry. How many of us long for this? What is keeping us from this type of rest?
Jesus goes on to say, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The yoke is a harness that connects a team of draft animals together so they can share the burden of work. In most cases a young beast is paired with a mature one so that the one can teach the other. Jesus is telling us that he wants us to bring our burden to him, allow him to share the load and in turn he will teach us how to move forward. The yoke is also a symbolic word that speaks of the teaching of a rabbi. Meaning it is the life style a teacher promotes. Jesus showed us a lifestyle, I have spoken of it often. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he withdrew often to isolated places to pray and commune with His Father, and he ministered to the needs of the community. This is the yoke of Jesus, and when we get into this rhythm of life when we take on this lifestyle we will experience the rest that Jesus promises.
But often we do not have that rest. Often, we bear the burdens of life on our own. We often allow the expectations of life control us instead of letting wisdom freely reign. We worry, we struggle, we fret that maybe we have made some sort of mistake because life is not playing out the way we had hoped. We grasp tighter and attempting to take hold of the wild beast of life to bring it to submission and are again thrown. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Stop and walk an alternate path. Come to Christ and gain true rest. Dance to a different flute, and join with Him in His Life of bringing hope and healing to a broken world; loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the Love of Christ with others.
Matthew 10:40–42 (NRSV)
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 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; 42 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.”
If you are like me, the tenth chapter of Matthew has always seemed a bit random. Last week we discussed the warring that Jesus will cause between Fathers and sons, Mothers and daughters, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, that Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. I expressed how out of place that concept seemed for most of my journey with Christ. Then after all that random weirdness, Jesus begins to speak about welcoming people. If you are not careful while reading this chapter you might get whiplash, so proceed with caution.
Context is very important when we regard scripture. We need to know what the landscape around words are so we can understand them properly. Context does not only mean looking at the words before and after a passage, but also looking at the culture the document was written to, the local politics and social phenomena, as well as the demographic of population. We should always be cautious of reading our own understanding into a passage, because often we ourselves can become the greatest contributor of ignorance when we believe we already understand fully.
What is the context surrounding this passage? In the chapter proceeding, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and tells them that the fields are ripe and ready for harvesters, yet they did not have enough laborers to accomplish the task, so Jesus encouraged the disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers. The passage said that he was with his disciples so automatically we assume that the complete group of twelve were present. But Matthew had not mentioned twelve prior to opening of the tenth chapter. Up to that point the group of recorded disciples were Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. Of course, Jesus was active in ministry so it is likely there were more disciples but Matthew did not mention the amount prior to that point. What we do know is that Jesus told his most faithful followers that more people were needed to complete that task set before them.
After this discussion with his disciples, Matthew then makes his list of the disciples giving us the idea that they took seriously the encouragement to bring more disciples to Jesus. These disciples in turn were encouraged to go out preaching the gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. They were to go out reflecting life and ministry that Jesus was demonstrating to them.
Can you imagine living that way? Living with that type of faith and boldness? The interesting thing is that Jesus specifically commanded them to only go to those in Judea. He commanded them not to venture into Samaria, or to the gentile populations living among them. This also seems odd since the great commission, the last command of Jesus before He returned to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, was to go to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
I have thought about this. The hardest people to share our faith with are the people who know who we were. When I talk to old classmates the initial reaction they give when I tell them I became a pastor is laughter. Why? They knew who I was. It is not because I was such a rebel in school, but it is because I was the one that dreaded speaking at any time. After the initial laughter, the second reaction is a statement saying that they should not be surprised because of how I acted in school. The people of Judea know the disciples, they lived next door and went to similar events. They knew the disciples. They knew that none of these men were asked to study with the rabbis after their initial education in the synagogue. They knew their wives, and their children. They knew what profession they took when they became adults and not one of these disciples were regarded as religious scholars. Imagine the reaction of the community when these men began to step out in faith.
The initial reaction: “Oh, you are part of that group that follows Beelzebub, that attracts all the pests of society.” And for the most part that is where the conversation stops. They withdraw wanting nothing to do with you. At times, the distaste might have escalated, and there were other times where they might have listened and made some decision to follow the Teacher as well. Jesus warned them about the divisions that would occur in various relationships. These divisions are even more pronounced on the foreign Mission Field where proclaim faith in Jesus can cause abandonment or death.
Jesus warned us that if we are to be obedient to His calling, we will face trials. He told them to begin at home, begin this ministry around those you know before you attempt to visit cultures you may not be accustomed too. Even at home there is risk. But the risk is easier to understand and navigate when it is a culture you know. Jesus tells them to stay in Judea first, so you can get your bearing as you begin this walk of discipleship.
So that is the setting of the passage. The ministry of the disciples is about to begin. They are just getting started and are feeling the initial pangs of rejection, and Jesus is encouraging them to continue the walk. And if we are honest they need all the encouragement they can get. It is hard to face ridicule, it is not easy to stand in faith when the people around you explain that very faith away using definitions that are contrary to the faith you are attempting to express. Their own countrymen were calling them children of Satan instead of part of the tribe of Israel. They come back to their teacher and their spirits are bleeding from the cuts their own families have inflicted. They stagger into camp wondering if they can continue, or if they ever really believed. Then Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me.”
After all the discussion of swords coming to sever deep relationships, Jesus begins to tell them that there is much more than what your current experience is allowing you to see. Sure door will be closed to come relationships, but others will fill the void. Whoever welcomes…will have a reward. Jesus is telling us that the emotions we experience are very real, painfully real while we experience but be welcoming.
The concept of welcoming is striking. The sense of the term is to willingly accept or permit access to one’s company. To welcome another is to initiate a relationship or a friendship. These friendships are an integral part of life, becoming a balm to the painful divisions that may occur between those within and outside the faith. But who is welcomed? Jesus lists of sever categories of people: You, a prophet, the righteous, and the little ones. The welcoming community Jesus is describing is what we now call a church or Meeting.
The first category of people mentioned is You. Consider the wording. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the one who sent Me.” This first statement of welcoming is not directed to the individual disciple but it is to the community of disciples. When the community welcomes one who has expressed belief, they not only welcome an individual, they are also accepting into that community God who dwells within the image bearer. This discipline of being welcoming, the discipline of willingly accepting or permitting access to one’s company is a visual indication of the spiritual health of a Meeting. Are we looking for reasons to reject or limit access of individuals within our company or are we making efforts to assimilate them?
The second category spoken of is the prophet. The station of prophet is popular in many faith communities. Popular but often misunderstood. The prophet is one that speaks on behalf or interprets the will of the supernatural, or God. In the context of this passage the prophet is a minister or pastor. They are the ones that assist the community as they walk that pathways of faith together. The prophet proclaims the words God inspires them to speak, and they provide spiritual direction and discipline for those under their care. Jesus encourages the community to accept the prophets among them and by doing so they will share in the prophet’s reward. What is this reward? When Paul wrote to the Philippian Church he said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” The reward of the prophet is to share in the life and lifestyle of Christ. To share in the teaching, the suffering, and the resurrection of Christ, and to pass that hope on to others. To welcome a prophet we welcome and participate in the life of Christ. Our acceptance of the prophets among us reflect our faith in Christ Himself. And hopefully the prophets among us recognize the weight of the station they bear within a community.
Next Jesus speaks of the righteous. The righteous in this sense are the ones within the community that show spiritual maturity in words and action. They are not necessarily prophets but they are people within the community that are well respected. In the Society of Friends we would call these people weighty Friends, which means their word carry weight in the decision making processes. The reward that we share by welcoming the righteous is peace and unity within the community.
Finally, “Whoever gives a cup of water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” This circles around to the beginning you were welcomed so now you welcome others. Giving a cup of water to a little one is to provide nourishment to the least of these, or the seemingly insignificant among us. The term used can also refer to irrigation of a plant. So not only could it mean service to others, but also encouragement and counsel in faith. If we are part of the community we willing accept all people in our company and encourage them to deepen their faith from where they are now so that they will grow in faith. We show them the lifestyle of Jesus in our own lives. We reflect to them Jesus’ custom of worshiping in the meeting places, we encourage them to withdraw often to pray and if need be we pray with them, and we invite them to participate in service and ministry to the needs of those around us.
We do all of this not out of legal requirement, but because living a life of faith is extremely difficult. We are cut and harmed by those closest to us. We are ridiculed by those without faith, and we often feel alone. We welcome not because God needs us to gather together but because we need to gather together. We need to be encouraged and reminded of the most important things so we are not distracted by things that are fleeting. Be welcoming because you we welcomed. Be encouraging because you were encouraged. Give because you were given to. When the church stays focused on this we share in the reward. When we participate in the lifestyle of Christ together we begin to see God all around us working in and through the lives of the faithful even when the world outside seems chaotic.
The disciples were starting to take on a new role within the kingdom. Before they followed Jesus as he walked, now they were sent to take what they observed in Christ out to their communities. The command they were given is the same command God has always given love God, and love others. Willing accept and welcome those into the community and love them so that they will love God and others in return. There is such beauty in the holy rhythm Jesus gave to us. And as we pray and enter into this time of Holy Expectancy let us consider how well we are welcoming: You, our prophets, the righteous among us, and how well we serve water to the little ones.