Thought for the day
We do have the saying, “goodness is its own reward” and that, no doubt, is true. We don’t do good to be rewarded but simply because it is good. At the same time, goodness leads to goodness and kindness inspires kindness. This can be true at the most mundane level: if I am courteous and obliging, say, as a driver, perhaps others on the road will be inspired to be obliging and courteous in their turn. It is even more true at a higher level. Generosity of spirit inspires the same in others.
Help us, Lord, to be kind and generous in our dealings with others today following the example of Jesus. Amen.
Matt 10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.
Matt 10:40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. 41 Whoever receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever receives a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, I tell you the truth, he will never lose his reward.”
In these unstable times, fear is an understandable reaction. This can be true in society in general— the economy, politics, climate change. It can also be true within the community of faith. As we go through a time of intense pressure and overt opposition, it would be easy to lose heart. If there were a prophet among us, s/he would say to us “this is the very time to lay hold of your confidence and your joy in believing.” Even Matthew moves from opposition through fearlessness towards the rewards of believing.
Kind of writing
The Mission Discourse unfolds in several moments.
10:1-4 Authority for mission
10:5-16 Core instructions
10:17-25 Future opposition
10:34-39 The cost of discipleship
10:40-11:1 The rewards of discipleship
Mt 10:37-39 offers three parallel sayings. The link words are father, mother, son, daughter. The theme is Jesus’ challenge to family loyalty. Matthew’s version is a little more stark because he omits a link passage which we find in Luke 14:25-26a.
The first part of the text is shared with Luke 14:25-27 and Luke 17:33, with significant differences. Both go back to the Sayings Source (Q), which may have looked like this (following the Lucan order):
Q Lk14:26 The one who does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple; and the one who does not hate son and daughter cannot be my disciple.
Q Lk 14:27 The one who does not take one’s cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple.
Q Lk 17:33 The one who finds one’s life will lose it, and the one who loses one’s life will find it.
Some of the second part of the text is also taken from Q: Lk 10:16.
Q Lk10:16 Whoever takes you in takes me in, and whoever takes me in takes in the one who sent me.
Verses 37-38 share a refrain, “is not worthy of me.” Verses 39-41 offer three sayings in the form of couplets. The little word “reward” helps to stitch v. 42 into the sequence.
Old Testament background
Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household. (Mic 7:5–6)
Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. (Prov 25:25)
New Testament foreground
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matt 16:24–26)
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matt 18:1–5)
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt 12:46–50)
Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (John 13:20)
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:19–20)
But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14)
More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!–that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness–a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8–11)
Verse 37 In contrast with the Q and Lucan forms, Matthew avoids the word “hate.” He has a greater emphasis on love (5:43-47; 22:34-40). The word hate has quite negative connotations in his Gospel (5:43; 6:24; 10:22; 24:9-10) and, evidently, he cannot bring himself to use it constructively. Consistent with his editorial approach, Matthew simplifies the layout of family members. “More than me” is also typical of Matthew. Cf. Mt 10:24.
The contrast with Q Lk 14:26 may shed light. Matthew has intensified and personalised the master-discipleship relationship. No longer, then, “cannot” but rather “is not worthy of me,” surely a significant adjustment. This also picks up the personal relationship already implied in “more than me.”
Verse 38 Matthew explicitly links this saying with the previous one by adding the simple word “and.” For the third time—that is, emphatically—we hear “is not worthy of me.” In this Gospel, Jesus does not begin to speak of his crucifixion until 16:21-23, so the reference to the cross is chronologically awkward. In any case, it is hard to imagine metaphorical use of “cross” before Jesus’ own crucifixion. In Matthew’s context, the threat of actual martyrdom seems real and so the metaphor is rather more than a way of saying something. Matthew likes the word “to follow” and the statistical occurrence is important: 25-18-17-19.
Verse 39 The contrast with Luke sheds light once more. Luke reads: Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Luke 17:33). Matthew opens with “whoever finds” (a participle); he strengthens and improves the contrast by inserting “finds” instead of “seeks to preserve”; finally, he disturbs the balance by inserting “for my sake”, underlining again the relationship with Jesus. The word for life—psyche—has a range of meanings: life (in contrast to death); the whole person; the principle by which one is in contact with God. The last two meanings are at play here.
Verse 40 Here, it seems Matthew has conflated sayings preserved elsewhere in Mark and Luke. There are subtle differences and, as often, Matthew is just that little bit clearer.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:37)
“Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:48)
The overall effect in Matthew’s version is to give greater authority and responsibility to the disciples, as representatives of Jesus and of the Father who sent him. This may reflect emerging church order in Matthew’s community in Antioch.
Verse 41 This verse is unique to Matthew. It may also reflect an early church order in Matthew’s community: apostles, prophets, righteous persons and the little ones. The vocabulary reflects the interests of Matthew: prophet, righteous, little ones, receive, reward.
Verse 42 The teaching here is taken from Mark 9:41. Matthew’s editing of Mark is again illuminating.
Even though there is an emerging hierarchy, the little ones—the ordinary church members—are not to be neglected. All the “levels” share the same context of mission, including witness, persecution, flight and, when needed, fraternal hospitality.
Pointers for prayer
1. ‘Jesus never wanted suffering for anyone but he knew that if anyone was going to follow in his footsteps promoting love and respect for every person, they would meet with opposition. Fidelity has its price, but also rewards. Would you agree?
2. The passage is a call to both radical and practical discipleship. When have you found that in order to achieve a certain objective you had to make it a priority, and then take the practical steps necessary to reach your goal? What were the benefits to you when you did this?
3. ‘Hate’ (in the Lucan version) is prophetic exaggeration for the uncompromising loyalty Jesus seeks in disciples. There may be times when people make demands in conflict with fidelity to another relationship. This can be painful. When have you found that being clear about your priorities helped you in that situation?
All-powerful God, your incarnate Word commands our obedience and offers us true life.
Make our ears attentive to the voice of your Son and our hearts generous in answering his call, that we may take up the cross with trust in his promises. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.