It seems that almost every business establishment has some sort of ‘Rewards Program”. Airlines, grocery stores, ‘Big Box’ stores, Pet stores, you name it and there is some sort of loyalty program for which your spending is rewarded. Get your points for future gifts or miles for your next flight. You can even rack up some miles when you use your credit card to make donations to our church!
Todays gospel-lesson contains Jesus’ ‘reward program’ for anyone who wishes to follow Him. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.” What are these rewards that Jesus if speaking about? The way that I read the scriptures is that the prophets received persecution, rejection, and even death because of their loyalty to God and the work He had given them. Those who receive such treatment are told: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Likewise, the righteous are promised that they “will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” Then Jesus instructs His followers by saying: “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of the disciple. Truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
The Greek word that St. Matthew uses in this gospel passage is misthos which means that something is earned by a person for something they have done. To receive a prophets reward is to seek out every opportunity, to use every gift God has given us, to devote every resource at our disposal to make the love of God a living reality in every life that we touch. The gospel, ‘cup of water’ can be simple and ordinary, but every kindness we offer, when given out of generous compassion, is a prophetic act of God’s presence in our midst. While warning His disciples of the hardships they might face, Jesus assures them of their preciousness in the sight of God. They are so intricately connected to their Master that any action (good or bad) is done as if it has been done to Jesus Himself.
An insight into this way of acting is given by Ram Dass who writes that in India: “when people meet and part they often say, “Namaste”, which means: I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us Namaste.” This is this is what we mean when we say: “The Lord be with you.” This is the core belief of what happened on Pentecost Sunday when the apostles received the Holy Spirit. This is what happens when we receive the Body of Christ in communion. We are one with the Lord because He wishes to be with us, and we desire to be united with Him. This is the ultimate gift in Christs ‘loyalty program’ known as discipleship.
There are several things that are different from the rewards programs offered by the business world and the one offered by Jesus. First, these earthly programs have expiration dates by which we must redeem our points, or we lose them. Secondly, these programs can be terminated when a company decides they no longer want to continue their program. With Jesus, the benefits never expire nor will He discontinue the so called ‘program’. But there is one aspect that we must be aware of. It is a lifetime ‘loyalty program’ that we should never terminate our participation in. Discipleship is a lifelong commitment. And, Jesus will never discontinue giving us our rewards of graces in this life and eternity in His presence in the heavenly kingdom. To receive the prophets reward is to seek out every opportunity to be closer to God and one another.