A reminder to offer a cold cup of water: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

A reminder to offer a cold cup of water: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Year A, Trinity Sunday
July 2, 2023

Year A: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

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In today’s world and what is happening, the Gospel of Matthew has much to say. 

The reading from Matthew affirms the power and significance of welcoming: and I’m here to tell you that the Gospel’s call for radical welcome extends far and wide – it is a call to embrace people from all walks of life, all nations, all races, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all sexual orientations. It’s a call to do it in our personal and social relationships and communities. It’s an invitation to foster equality by acknowledging that every individual, regardless of their identity, bears the image of God. 

The principle of welcome in the Gospel of Matthew is about opening our hearts to the diversity of creation and humanity, reflecting Christ’s love in our interactions with the world around us. 

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  

This is the shortest gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the last part of the missionary discourse in Matthew and the continuation of the teaching that Jesus gave his disciples after the Sermon on the Mount. 

It might be short, but the ideas packed into these verses are worthy of more than a cursory reading because here’s what happened in the preceding verses of this chapter: Jesus, seeing how lost and troubled people were who came to hear that Sermon on the Mount decides that his disciples are to go out to spread God’s kingdom. Jesus has been preparing the disciples for their first mission alone. They have been given the authority to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has arrived. 

Here’s the reality about the hospitality the disciples will encounter. Matthew’s context of hospitality differs vastly from what we commonly understand as hospitality today. For most of us, hospitality is our coffee hour after church or hosting a meal. Hospitality is generally a word that signifies comfort and security. Perhaps it’s welcoming family or friends to stay an overnight or two in our home. Usually, we understand hospitality to mean that we open our homes or churches to people we know or those who know people we know – hospitality is generally extended to people who do not threaten us in any way. 

Hospitality in the disciples’ world was something very different. They would not be welcomed everywhere1, and they could expect to experience the same hostility that Jesus often did; remember, he told them that he was sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves.” They can expect to encounter persecution and trials2 and had to be prepared for the painful divisions within their families. Amidst all this, the disciples will have to depend upon the hospitality of others. 

Hospitality in the Bible is very different than our present-day understanding. In Genesis, we hear of Abraham’s encounter with three mysterious visitors and Abraham’s command to Sarah to prepare hospitality.3 In Matthew 25, we hear Jesus talk about the hospitality shown to the most vulnerable – “truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”4 

For the entire Mediterranean world of the time – Jew, Christian, Greek, Roman, and all others there are divine implications in hospitality. A stranger may be the God of Israel, the Messiah, or one of many other gods and goddesses of the ancient world. Answering a knock at the door could be dangerous.”5 And it’s in that context that Jesus sends his disciples to do exactly what he does, notwithstanding the heartache and challenges. It reminds me of the Byzantine Catholic tradition at Christmas and Easter. You were always to set an extra place at the table for a stranger, and the stranger who came might be Christ. 

Welcoming people in the name of Jesus Christ is the message of this Gospel. This ever-so-brief gospel passage truly represents the heart of Matthew’s gospel. It’s a timeless call for us as the church – the people and the institution – to go out into the world in Christ’s name and to receive and welcome the “little ones” in Christ’s name. 

How ARE WE called welcome? Jesus offers a simple answer: “If anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”6 That’s what we hear in Matthew. 

A cup of cold water. That’s pretty amazing to think about a cup of cold water being analogous to hospitality when discussing the spread of God’s kingdom. It seems like a small act of kindness. How is that cold cup of water any meaningful extension of hospitality? 

Renowned author and theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “We have it in us to be Christs to each other…to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us.”7  

We have it in us to offer those cold cups of water. 

We have it in us to be Christ to each other. We have it in us to look for Christ in others – to seek and serve Christ in all people, striving for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being.8 That’s what we are called to do in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s probably the most important thing we’re called to do. That is the mission work we are given to do and the hospitality we are called to offer. 

But how do we manifest this in a world where practicalities often overshadow principles and anger rules? Perhaps the first step is nurturing a culture of empathy, recognition, and dialogue within our communities. It is about opening ourselves to listen to people’s stories, understand their struggles, and affirm their inherent dignity. Moreover, it also entails fostering a heart that genuinely welcomes and embraces the other. 

The Gospel’s radical inclusivity is not merely about offering a cup of water—it is about extending the hand of friendship, providing assurance, and embodying Christ’s unconditional love. It is a challenge that asks us to defy the world’s logic and embrace the wisdom of the cross—wisdom that sees no stranger but recognizes God’s image in every face. 

We’re called to practice hospitality by listening to one another. Yesterday, I posted something on Facebook and got a very angry response from someone I’ve only met a few times. Politically and socially, we are probably very simpatico, but she was angry. Somehow a button was pushed. And I was angry. But before I hit the send button a second time, I stepped back and thought, do I want to get into a flame war with someone 400 miles away? Because when things are said or posted, it’s not so easy to walk them back. 

When we disagree with one another, we’re called to listen to one another. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we do have to listen. And in the listening, we must never forget to offer that cup of water, remember that God EQUALLY loves us all, and each of us has a place in God’s kingdom.  

The gospel is also a reminder that hospitality is to be exercised most often in the ordinary, not necessarily the extraordinary. That’s what Jesus is getting at in telling us to offer a cold cup of water. 

Lest we forget what we have to offer, we have Jesus’ promise: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” And we are all welcome and loved in the name and in the sight of Jesus Christ.