Scripture: Matthew 10:40-42
In today’s segment of “podcasts Pastor Kim endorses” is one called The Nuanced Life. It’s two women talking about current events and relevant topics. (A shameless plug: These two women also host Pantsuit Politics - where they specifically talk about politics from two perspectives (one a registered Republican and one a registered Democrat).) So, this podcast - The Nuanced Life - is a spinoff of the first. In it, they talk about current events and life in general - anything from the pandemic to law school to relationships - and they talk about the nuances within - those subtle differences in meaning and expression depending on situations - those subtle differences that make a big difference.
Nuances are so important. The importance in recognizing and clarifying subtle differences in meaning can keep people from widely misunderstanding one another.
Recognizing nuances can enlighten people’s perspective.
Recognizing nuances can help make decisions.
So, why the rambling about nuances? Because I believe Scripture is full of moments where we need to recognize and clarify nuances - those subtle differences in meaning. Words used in different contexts bring with them nuances.
Take, for example, the word “reward.” I hear that word and I think of giving a dog a reward, a treat, for sitting. I think of a student getting a trophy or certificate as a reward for earning all A/B Honor Roll. I think of rewards I set for myself, such as ice cream or taking a nap, as motivation to complete some task I’ve been procrastinating doing.
To me, “reward” has a transactional feeling or nuance to it. “I did ____ and now I get ____ in return.” Yet, I don’t see our faith and our relationship with God as transactional. I’ve often said that God is not a bubble gum machine - we cannot put two prayers in and expect one miracle out.
In these three verses, though, I read three times that a reward will be granted to whoever welcomes a prophet or a righteous person or whoever gives a cup of water to one who asks. In the very first sentence, I’m thrown back to my math teaching days and the transitive property...if a person welcomes a disciple of Jesus, they welcome Jesus, and by welcoming Jesus, they welcome God. It seems like one of the most linear pieces of Scripture.
In these verses, Jesus is instructing the disciples as they carry his message out to the surrounding area, towns, households. He’s telling them that whoever welcomes them, welcomes him, welcomes God. And that they will be rewarded.
Is my “God is not a bubble gum machine” statement being tested?
(Spoiler alert: I still don’t believe two prayers equals one miracle.)
I do believe Jesus is reiterating to his disciples that the efforts, the hard work, of spreading Jesus’ message of equality and justice and caring for all will not go unnoticed. I do believe he is letting them know that whoever welcomes them and this message will also not go unnoticed. And I believe we can hear this message for ourselves today, too.
We may not literally be staying in people’s houses for lodging, but we certainly are sharing life with people. And we are certainly “putting ourselves out there” in order to speak out against discrimination and overlooking the poor or forgotten in society and abusing environmental resources and many other lessons our faith teaches us.
When people hear these messages of ways to bring God’s kingdom to earth and embrace them, they are embracing not only the messenger but also God. And there is a good return for doing so.
We are inclusive of diversity because we know it gives a good return.
We care for Creation because we know it gives a good return.
We push for policy and law changes because we know it gives a good return.
We serve our community because we know it gives a good return.
What is the good return - the reward, if you will?
It’s bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
Feeling the joy and satisfaction of seeing the “least” in society served.
Making this world a better place.
Just like most things - relationships, exercising, studying - the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
The more love you put out there, the more you receive.
The more we advocate for social reform, the more policies and laws are implemented.
The more good we put out into this world, the more joy we (and others!) experience.
It has a nuance of being transactional, but it’s not so exact - it’s more fluid than that.
Are we doing all this hard work of furthering God’s message for a reward? Yes. But it isn’t a trophy or certificate or ice cream or a nap. The reward is growing closer to the Divine and getting closer as a society to God’s ideals. The reward is bringing God’s kingdom to earth.
John Ruskin, a 19th century British art critic, said “The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it." I pray that we all feel that reward of becoming more Christ-like.