Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42
There is a reciprocal nature to how you treat other people: What you do for others you will see it again in your own life. This admonition also applies to those who are involved in the work of the Lord. One finds this observance in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament it is “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15). In the New Testament it is found in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.”
Jesus also provides a ritual for failure, to shore up his disciples and to encourage their hearts when they are not well received. Matthew 10:14 says: “If anyone will not welcome you, or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” There is nothing miraculous in the ritual, it is just a way to put bad experiences behind us and move on.
Jesus concludes his missionary discourse with this Spirit-filled pep talk about rewards for those who receive and treat well his disciples and apostles, who go forth and proclaim the gospel. Anyone who extends even the least kindness to one of Jesus’ own will not lose their reward. The language here is ambassadorial. Jesus says whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. To receive the ambassador or apostle is to receive the potentate that sent him; to reject the ambassador is to reject the one that sent him.1 The word “welcome” refers practically to the willingness to offer support and shelter to those who represent Jesus. Underlying this response is their positive attitude to the disciples and what they stand for.2
The reward envisioned in “Whoever welcomes a prophet …” is entry into the kingdom of God at the end of the age. It is also possible that what one receives is the benefit of hearing the prophet’s words, which come from God.3
Suffice it to say that in our day the discouragements that come to those who go out in Jesus’ name are real and the cords that bind them to the people to whom they are sent to minister are easily broken. Some denominations report that over 50% of their clergy leave ordained ministry within five years of their ordination. Others stay out of necessity but lose much of the joy that initially filled their hearts for Christian ministry.
This one who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquity has a sense of the toughness and unyielding demands of congregants on their ministers and servants of the work of God. Jesus promises that those who bless them along the way will not lose their reward. Something as innocent and simple as a cup of cold water given to those who serve will insure that the givers of such will not lose their reward.
In all too many congregations there are people who are hurting and feel they need to pass their pain on to others, especially paid staffers over whom they believe they can exercise some control. The followers of Jesus have been sent to minister especially to them. Earlier Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). In my many years of teaching in the seminary, I have seen countless students head out for their ministries with great joy and anticipation, only to return a few years later for a campus visit with diminished hopes and dashed expectations about what ministry would be like.
A dear faculty colleague told me when he graduated from seminary many years ago he felt pretty smug and secure, for he knew exactly where he was going. He already had his assignment in hand the day he graduated. But his joy was not to last long, for within a year of going to his ideal assignment the church fired him and sent him packing. That ordeal so early in his young ministry threw him into crisis about his future. Another pastor in the Midwest, near the end of his ministerial career, told me he was so sick and tired of his congregation that he couldn’t wait to retire. He mused that he often wondered why he went into ministry in the first place. In the twilight of his pastorate he felt mostly regret over all the “stuff” church people had put him through.
All too many in ministry, on both sides of the equation, unhappily yoked, are made to feel that they are put in a position of “fight or flee.” All need to hear Jesus’ words and trust his promises. The prophets and disciples who go out in his name must know that he has promised to be with them and never to leave them alone. Those to whom they minister must remember that the Lord promises to reward those who find a way to bless the ministers among them. And that they will not lose their reward, be it now or at the end of the age, for something as simple as a cup of cold water to those who minister among them in Jesus’ name.
- Evans, Craig A. Matthew: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 230.
- France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew (The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans, 2007), 412.
- Evans, Craig A. Matthew: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 231.