Talk for 28th June

Reflection for Sunday 28th June 2020

A reflection on Jeremiah 28:5-9 & Matthew 10:40-end


In our services over the last two weeks we’ve been looking at the advice, instructions and warnings that Jesus gives to his 12 closest disciples prior to sending them off into nearby towns and villages. As Colin reminded us two weeks ago, it is the moment when the disciples become apostles (the sent ones). They are sent to further the ministry of Jesus, himself. They are to proclaim the message: the Kingdom of heaven has come near. They are to heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy and drive out demons. As they take this all on though Jesus warns them that they would face opposition. Jesus threatens the self-seeking ways of the world and the world reacts in the only way it knows to preserve the status quo. That is by force and suppression. Just as Jesus was subject to persecution, so are those who follow in his steps. The student is not above the teacher and the servant not above the master. Jesus reiterates his warning later on, during the last supper – ‘Remember what I told you; a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20a). Rejection is part of the cost of discipleship and those who enter into Jesus’ ministry must be prepared for it. Jesus’ words though do not end at this point, At the last supper he continues ‘If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also’ which brings us to passage from Matthew that we read today. It is the final part of Jesus’ instructions to his apostles and they are not words of warning but words of encouragement. There will be opposition, but there will also be welcome and in the same way that those who reject Jesus, reject the ones he sends, those who welcome the ones that Jesus sends, welcome Jesus and furthermore, welcome the one who sent Jesus, that is the Father. Those who give even a cup of cold water to the least of Jesus’ followers is serving no less than Jesus himself. There is something to say about oneness here. The sender and the sent are of one heart and mind. They bring the same values to the table and draw the same response from those around them.

I want to focus though a bit more on the word, ‘welcome’ and hold it in contrast to the word ‘tolerance.’ Our society often speaks of tolerance. Indeed, it prides itself on tolerance, placing it as one of the outstanding virtues to aspire to in our day. In practice, I wonder whether tolerance is actually practiced as much as it is talked up, but that is not a point that I want to labour here. Jesus is not speaking of tolerance but welcome. Welcome is a deep form of acceptance. If I tolerate something it is as though I am putting up with it, even though I don’t like it. To welcome something is to truly appreciate, encourage and receive it gladly.  Jesus is reassuring his newly appointed apostles that whilst there are many that will oppose them there are also people who will not just tolerate them but welcome them. They will find people prepared to gladly receive them and genuinely embrace the ministry that they bring to the community. The role of the apostle is not to worry about the opposition but to give themselves fully to those that offer them true welcome.

There is more though that Jesus has to say about welcome and it comes in the form of a rather intriguing statement; ‘whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person, will receive a righteous person’s reward.’

I will deal with what the rewards might be further on but welcoming a prophet as a prophet and welcoming a righteous person as a righteous person is about recognition and discernment. Jesus was both a prophet and a righteous person, but the Pharisees thought he was Beelzebub. They failed to recognise the authenticity of his prophetic ministry or his righteousness and certainly did not welcome him.

In today’s Old Testament reading we get an insight into why this might be so. In this odd little episode we learn that Jeremiah has taken to wearing a wooden yoke, to signify that Judah would become subject to the harsh rule of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Already, the kings of Judah along with others of high standing and the temple treasures had been removed to exile in Babylon. A false prophet, Hananiah, appears before Jeremiah and the people that remain in Jerusalem and prophecies that the yoke of Babylon would be broken within two years, the king of Judah would be restored, and the people and treasure returned. To add substance to his words he removes Jeremiah’s yoke and breaks it. Hananiah was in fact, half right. Nebuchadnezzar’s rule would be broken and people and treasures would be returned but not for 70 years and not before the total destruction of Jerusalem had taken place and its people exiled, just as Jeremiah had warned.

In this story the people welcomed the false prophet as a prophet and failed to acknowledge let alone welcome the true prophet as a prophet. People accepted Hananiah’s prophecy because they liked it better. Unlike Jeremiah he did not confront the people with their sin. Hananiah’s was an altogether easier prophecy to swallow, but it was not the truth. Jeremiah’s words to Hannaniah are telling, ‘The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies’ (Jeremiah 28:15).

It is easy for people of all ages to live in denial. People fail to see the corruption within their society, especially when they prosper from it. When we feel comfortable, the last thing we want is change. Jesus’ ministry was ushered in by the prophetic message of John the Baptist. It was, as is so often the case with prophecy, a call to repentance. A call to individuals and the nation to turn to a more godly, healthy, and sustainable way of life. Some recognised that John was a prophet, welcomed him as a prophet and embraced his message, yet others (notably the privileged and powerful) refused to receive him as such. Their denial is revealed in a confrontation between Jesus and a group of Pharisees (Matthew 21:23-27). It seems that it is easy for people to believe what they want to believe and not the truth and we must be aware that we are all vulnerable to this tendency. In his 2nd letter to Timothy Paul writes; ‘For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.’  2 Tim 4:3-5.

Welcoming the apostle, the prophet and the righteous person comes then with a cost. The welcomer will be changed and change is hard, but there is also reward for the one who welcomes. In spite of the cost there are also gains. As I’ve already suggested, the welcome that Jesus is speaking of here is one that goes beyond common hospitality. It is a welcome that fully engages with the ministry of the apostle, and as such the one who offers that welcome becomes open to the benefits of that ministry.

The reward of the righteous person is fullness of eternal life in the present as well as in the future. In recognising the genuinely righteous person as a righteous person we prove that we know what righteousness looks like and can benefit from adopting it into our own lives. There is a caveat here though in that we need to be careful in our discernment of what we consider righteous and of attributing virtue to things that are not virtuous. Our culture has made virtues of success, accomplishment, wealth, fame and status. It honours those who achieve such things. Yet none of them are in themselves, the attributes of righteousness.   

The reward of the prophet is the opportunity to respond to what God is saying through the prophet, for that is the way to freedom and well-being. It is the power that comes from living by the supernatural guidance that God gives and not having to rely on the limitations of our own wisdom.

To sum up we are called to be both welcomers and apostles. We are called to embrace the ministry of Jesus and to take it to others, accepting the challenges that each of those callings bring.


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