What’s the reward?

Matthew 10:40-42 (Jeremiah 28:5-9, Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Romans 6:12-23)

This week’s Gospel text is so short, it can be shared here in its entirety.  

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever 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; 42and 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” (Matthew 10:40-42).

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked, “What’s the reward of a prophet?”  A reasonable question.  Having been promised a gift, one does not have to be a wee kid to become excitedly curious as to what that gift might be.  But still, I chuckle a little at the mental image that question conjures up.  I imagine a prophet standing on a doorstep proclaiming that he had a gift to give. The householder looks excitedly behind the prophet, and down the lane.  Where is it, the person inquires?  Here I am, the prophet replies: I am the gift.  The homeowner deflates in stunning disappointment.  Oh, whoop-de-doo.  Our ability, as human beings, to overlook a blessing that is before our very eyes is substantial.  This is but one example.  

The Biblical references to “one who is sent,” are considerable.  The Hebrew word shaliah and the Greek apostle, describe that person.  And, behind the words lie a powerful image, which comes from a time and place in which telephones and Zoom videoconferencing did not exist.  An envoy, steward, or plenipotentiary was used instead.  The one who was sent as a representative was no mere underling.  Instead – to use a phrase in popular use at the time of Jesus – the envoy sent by a man is like the man himself. When the envoy was welcomed, one was welcoming the one who sent him.  

Now we are getting to the heart of the meaning of “reward” (misthos).  Notice the words “Whoever welcomes…” (vs. 40, 41).  This phrase literally means “receives into one’s house.”  It is not simply a friendly hello, it is a welcoming in.  So, whosever allows into one’s home (think also, heart, life, etc.) a prophet/disciple, is welcoming Jesus, just as surely as if Jesus himself were there.  There is the reward: One is rewarded by the prophet/disciple with the presence of the Savior.

And so, this text poses a question – a test, if you will – of the person’s attitude to God.  Will you leave the visitor on your doorstep, unwelcomed, unreceived, rejected?  To do so is to turn away Godself.  It is to return the misthos unopened and unwanted.