the penultimate WORD
Series 1999 - Proper 13 Canon Jim Irvine
"whoever gives even a cup of cold water ..."


Jesus said, "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." Matthew 10:40-42


The doorbell rings. Or, there's a knock at the door. It's a screen door and the knock is accompanied by the familiar rattle of the door hung loose in the frame, held in place by the spring latch. The recognition of a familiar face through the screen gives voice to welcome, and the door is swung open wide.

It's a familiar summer memory that is shared by friends and family alike. It's a memory that recalls past visits and a sense of belonging. It begins in childhood, with a visit to a grandparent and it continues throughout life. We know what it is to knock at the door, excited and hopeful. And we know what it is like to hear the knock, and the familiar rattle in the frame, and to set aside what we are doing to answer the door.

Doorbells and screening aside, Jesus knew the welcome that came from such a knock. As a boy in Nazareth he would remember the welcome extended to him by his grandparents, Anne and Joachim. His excitement, complimented by Mary's doting parents, engraved a familiar memory of welcome that sustained him over the intervening years. He shared the insight with his disciples.

"Whoever welcomes you," he would tell them, "welcomes me." The welcome is personal and integrated. The welcome draws us into a relationship and provides us with an opportunity to grow... in the better understanding and knowledge of one another, certainly. But Jesus extended that by suggesting that he is welcomed in our being welcomed. And in that, the One who sent Jesus is also and ultimately drawn into a living and vital relationship.

And the welcome can have different expectations. A prophet may be welcomed. A relationship is begun. A righteous person may be welcomed. A different relationship is begun. Even a person, thirsty and in need of water, and possibly not having the means to get water may be welcomed. Another relationship, and different yet again.

On the surface, they appear different. We might prefer the prophet's knock, although it invariably brought challenge and indictment. We'd likely choose a righteous person, but their goodness might prove heavy for us and we might feel lessened by them. Perhaps we welcome the person asking for water (beggars we call them) and the act of giving a cup of water would be gracious if we could bring ourselves to it.

Implicit in Jesus' words to his disciples is that they may not be welcomed. Not always. Not by everyone.

But, when they are, and by those that will, the deep reward will be the fellowship the host will encounter with the One who sent Jesus, and the Emmaus pattern of discovery in hospitality will enflame hearts and minds, again. A reward indeed!

Copyright © 1999 James T. Irvine

Series 1999