In 1994, when I was Chaplain of Eltham College, the school Chapel received a splendid gift, a stained-glass window designed by Hazel Parry. There it is as you walk down the aisle. The window tells a story of figures from the past, but the artist also put in a figure representing the most important people in a school, the pupils. One is depicted as offering ‘a cup of cold water’ to someone in need. A link also to the Christian foundation of the school because that phrase comes from the Gospel reading set by the Lectionary for this Sunday.
Read Matthew ch.10 vvs 40-42. Welcoming, reward, and giving.
We know the importance of welcome, as a new pupil, into a new job/team/family. Sometimes roles are reversed, and we are the welcomers, using insights gained from those who have been good to us. “Jesus said to the twelve: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’” The fascinating thing about what Jesus says is the implication that a relationship with Jesus can be second hand, with God it can be third hand. (This goes against the grain of what Christians are usually told, from other verses in scripture, of being able to have a direct relationship with God through Jesus. A summary of this is the saying ‘God has no grandchildren.’)
We leave that thought hanging in the air so that we can look at what Jesus says about ‘reward.’ ‘Whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.’ Christians are wary of this idea of ‘reward’. Faith, not works, salvation cannot be earned, these are two assertions that spring to mind. What do we then make of these words about being rewarded -and for what? Simply for being welcoming?
Then we come to what is quite a shocking saying ‘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.’
Is that all?
No, it can’t be!
It’s really nothing at all, you’re joking.
Anybody can do that, is that all it takes?
No wonder it is not found in any of the other three gospels.
One key might be to ask who are these ‘little ones’? They are powerless, disregarded, the outcasts, the people who don’t matter, who don’t count, the people we walk by without even offering them some water. Put to shame by people who may not claim to be Christian, people of other faiths who simply give what they can. ‘A cup of cold water,’ is that all?
If we return to the question we left hanging perhaps it is a case of ‘both and’ rather than either a direct or an indirect relationship with God through Jesus. Those of us who delight in our standing as ‘daughters and sons’ need to welcome those who are ‘on the same side’ who are also promised a reward, and who can put us to shame through their giving and caring for ‘these little ones’.
Spirit of God, you are the breath of creation,
the wind of change that blows through our lives,
opening us up to new dreams, and new hopes, new life in Jesus Christ.
Forgive us our closed minds which barricade themselves against new ideas,
preferring the past to what you might want to do through us tomorrow.
Forgive us our closed eyes which fail to see the needs of your world,
blind to opportunities of service and love.
Forgive us our closed hands which clutch our gifts and our wealth
for our own use alone.
Forgive us our closed hearts
which limit our affections to ourselves and our own.
Spirit of new life, forgive us and break down the prison walls of our selfishness,
that we might be open to your love and open for the service of your world; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Written by Chris Ellis (Patterns and Prayers for Christian Worship)