Life Giving Water

Text:  Matthew 10:40-42 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. “  Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."  Matthew 10:40-42 (The Message)


“Hospitality is a form of worship.” 

-- Jewish Proverb --


You may or may not know that I was raised in a Southern family.  And one of the core values is hospitality.  Hospitality at its core is caring for people, receiving people, and making people feel welcome.  And what does welcoming look like?  I can envision a scene of welcome in my mind’s eye from when I was a kid.  I am sitting in a wooden ladder-back chair at the rustic slatted table in my Granny’s kitchen.  I am barely tall enough to reach the table.  The table is covered in one of those red gingham plastic table cloths that is easy to wipe down.  Sunflowers bring life to the middle of the table.  A roast braises in the oven.  Granny opens the oven door to check on it, and the scrumptious aroma wafting out is intoxicating.  Turnip greens and rice are both cooking on the stove.  And the tea is steeping.  My hands are dusted in flour as I help shape buttermilk biscuits in my hand and place them gently on the round foil pie pans.  We are preparing a feast.  Who is coming?  Any one and everyone.  We never know how many will come but people are always welcome to come and sit for a spell.  As they come in the house we offer them a mason jar filled with sweet iced tea so cold you can see the condensation sliding down the glass.  Whether they are family, friends, hired help, or coworkers there is a sense of coming home as they come off the front porch and walk into the cozy and inviting single wide trailer, teeming with people, people who always know they are welcome to come and receive -- receive rest, nourishment, and renewal. 

Granny and Papa truly embodied hospitality for all people.        

Today’s passage puts a lot of emphasis on the importance of welcoming and receiving people.  In another translation Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  When we see the word translated here as “welcomes”  we are looking at the translation of the Greek word: decomenoz [dechomenos].  Dechomenos conveys the meaning of receive, welcome, accept, take, and bear with.  

Let us look at the context of today’s passage.  To whom is Jesus speaking?  If we look back to the first verse of Chapter 10 we realize that today’s verses are part of a larger talk that Jesus is having with the 12 disciples who were getting ready to be sent out.  Jesus is speaking to them but also speaking to us.  Welcoming involves sharing in the ministry of the prophet, the righteous, and the little ones.  Something as small as offering a cup of water or sweetened iced tea, as the case may be, becomes part of the work we are called to.  Showing welcome is a way of receiving God in our midst.  Conversely, when we do not make space for one another in life it is a form of rejecting God in our midst.

Today’s text points to a Jewish custom that would have been well known to its 1st century hearers and readers.  The concept is called shaliah.  In shaliah it is understood that if some one is sent as an agent or ambassador for someone else that person is to be treated as if they are the person they are representing.  For example, if a king was to send an ambassador, said ambassador was to be treated as if he was the king.  So when we welcome a prophet we are not only welcoming the prophet but also the one who sent the prophet.  And when we welcome a righteous one then we are welcoming who sent the righteous one.  When we welcome the little ones we are welcoming who cares for the little ones.  In all these instances, we are welcoming God.

So what does that look like today?  Who are prophets?  Who are the righteous?  Who are the little ones?  

Prophets were regarded as spokespersons for God.  The 12 apostles would have had a similar position as that of prophets.  Today anyone called by God to speak God’s message would be considered a prophet. 

Biblically speaking, righteous refers to those who are obedient to God.  So the righteous represent those who are working to live lives obedient to God.

Little ones has different connotations in scripture.  It has referred to children, to the poor, to the vulnerable, to those who are hungry, to those who are thirsty, to the stranger, to the naked, to the sick, to the imprisoned, and even to ordinary disciples.  Little ones seems to embody the least of these in all aspects that that denotes.  And I keep being reminded of the passage where Jesus teaches us that when we host a shindig we should be throwing the doors wide open in welcome and we should be inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” (Luke 14:13)

For me, the significance of today’s passage hinges on the importance of receiving and caring for the children of God.  And we are all children of God, whether we realize it yet or not.  Jesus specifies that we should especially welcome the ones who speak on my behalf, receive the ones who are obedient to me and to the one who sent me, and care for the least of these.  We are called to share in the ministry of the prophets, the righteous, and the little ones by treating them as God in our midst.  The beautiful image that comes to mind in this passage is the simple yet precious gift of a cup of water.  To those who are thirsty, whether it be spiritually or physically, water can be a life giving, sustaining, and priceless gift that is beyond measure.  

Lately, I have been reading the book Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.  And in it I have felt the compelling sense of needing to be more welcoming as a way of life, especially as a Christian way of life.  Welcoming should naturally be an outpouring of what we do.  Because we are made in the image of God, what we do for those we encounter acts as ministry.  There is a word Namaste that I tend to use as a signature for my e-mails.  Namaste is a Sanskrit word that means:  “I see the holy one in you.”  If we start to see the world through the eyes of Christ and see everyone as a temple of the Holy Spirit, perhaps it will help us to love more like Christ loves.  Seeing people with the eyes of Christ means having your eyes light up when they walk in the room.  It means really seeing and accepting them as they are.  When we realize that God dwells in us it changes how we see ourselves and how we see others.  When we start to see God in those around us joy should fill us as we see them.  And we should be compelled to be in relationship with them.  

Granny and Papa truly knew what it meant to see people through the eyes of Christ.  They treated each person like they mattered.  They showed hospitality to family, friends, and strangers.  Through their example, I better know how to welcome and receive people and see Christ in them.  Because of their love, I know a little more of what it means to love like Christ loves.  

Let us pray:  

May we be content to be about the work of serving and caring for one another.  May we cherish the times we are able to welcome and receive one another.  May we find more ways to be about living lives of hospitality.  Lord, help me to see you and encounter your presence, today, especially in the eyes of my neighbor.  Amen.  


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