by Father Jamin Scott David
The reason “the kindness of strangers” receives such a high profile in Matthew 10 is because Jesus is not talking about a message to be heard but about the reception of a person, namely himself as he dwells inside the disciples. Among other things in this passage, there is a curious verbal triple play in the last couple of verses. In the history of the church, commentators have spent a lot of time wondering why Jesus mentions the reception of a prophet, a righteous person, and “little ones.” Do these three groups stand for certain people in the church? Some have wondered if maybe “prophets” were to be identified with the apostles, “righteous persons” with the clergy, and the “little ones” with lay people. But that’s not the point, and if you think it is, you will probably miss the real scandal of this text. It’s not so important to decode just who Jesus may (or may not) have had in mind in listing those three groups. The main thing to see is that whatever group you happen to be in, the message is the same: people are to identify you with Jesus and Jesus with you!
This isn’t the only place in the New Testament where this personal connection to Jesus becomes evident. Recall, for example, a most startling such instance when the apostle Paul said that when a man sleeps with a prostitute, he drags Jesus into bed along with him. In a bold image, Paul suggests that a Christian man’s relations with a prostitute forced Christ to be there in that way, too, making Jesus “one flesh” with some streetwalker. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that warning goes a wee bit further than that song some of us learned to sing as children: “O be careful little hands what you do, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do.” To Paul’s mind (and, in Matthew 10, to Jesus’ mind, too), the image of a Father “looking down” from some point “up above” is too remote a way of viewing things. Apparently, our link with Jesus is vastly tighter.
That is a thought at once glorious and daunting. Jesus once said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Who among us is brave enough to say, “If you receive me, you receive Jesus.” If anything, many of us have been taught to see Jesus as the goal to which we aspire (but which we will never attain in this life). So we mostly focus on the disparity, the gap, between who Jesus is and who we are.
We’d rather present the gospel as something outside of ourselves instead of suggesting that people need to meet Jesus through us. We’ve all heard the old phrase, “Please don’t shoot the messenger!” Just because I need to be the one who tells you the news that your son just flunked out of college, pleasedon’t blame me! I’m only the bearer of the news, not the cause of it. But sometimes we seem to put some daylight between the gospel and ourselves, too: the shape of my life may or may not look a lot like Jesus but at least you can hear the message. Don’t let me get in the way! Don’t look at me as a role model or example! ~ Fr. Jamin