Posts Tagged ‘reliance’

We are parched

July 1, 2017

Pentecost 4 – 2017

Matthew 10:40-42

Marian Free

 

In the name of God in whom we live and breathe and have our being. Amen.

There are many who find it very difficult to receive assistance or gifts. There are a few explanations for this. Some people feel that they do not deserve attention and so they shy away from it. There are others who do not wish to feel obligated to another. If they receive a gift or are given help in any way they worry that they have put themselves in debt to someone else. Still others are unwilling to acknowledge that they need help – older people for example who do not want their family or friends to see that they are no longer coping. Behind all of these reasons lies a degree of pride and a desire to preserve one’s independence. Being reliant on others is seen as a sign of weakness in our society, so we build up a front, an image that says: “I can manage, I don’t need your gifts or your help.”

If that describes you, you might be in real strife at least according to today’s gospel. Refusing help – especially when help might make a difference in our lives – is one way of shutting people out, of being satisfied with superficial as opposed to real relationships and perhaps worst of all of denying the giver an opportunity to serve.

Last week I mentioned that chapter 10 of Matthew is a chiasm, that is that the first and last thought are similar, as are the second and second last and so on. In this chapter Jesus is addressing the twelve as he sends them out to preach and to heal. The passage begins with Jesus’ telling the disciples to take nothing with them, in other words to be utterly reliant on the generosity of strangers. The section concludes as it began, though it is worded not from the point of view of the disciples, but from the point of view of those from whom they receive hospitality. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” In Matthew’s gospel, the expression “little ones” refers to those who believe in Jesus, members of the community. As at the beginning, it is the disciples’ dependence on others that is at the heart of the statement.

A look at the collect for today indicates that more often than not, this paragraph has been misinterpreted. The collect assumes, as do many commentators, that the passage refers to the generosity of the disciples towards those in need. However, in its context, it is quite clear that Jesus’ words must be understood in reverse. Jesus is suggesting that it is those who provide for the disciples who will be rewarded (not that the disciples should do the providing).

For many of us, this is a challenging and confronting idea. As Christians, most of us will have been brought up to believe that it is our task to alleviate the suffering of the world, and there is some truth in that. However, that is not the message of today’s gospel. Here Jesus is quite clear, the disciples are to place themselves at the mercy of others. They are to put themselves in such a position that they are completely dependent on the kindness of those around them. It is the vulnerability of the disciples that will provide others an opportunity to serve them that in turn will give them a chance to “receive the reward of the righteous”.

This is a profoundly important point – one that is often overlooked, but which is essential in regard both to our relationship with God and to our mission to the world.

In verse 39 we read “those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. This is a reminder that our spiritual journey involves a continual process of letting go of control. The life we lose, is not the life that endures for eternity, but a life that relies on the things of this world – possessions, achievements, self-reliance and so on. It is only by relinquishing our independence and by recognising how much we need God’s help to achieve spiritual maturity that we are able to break down the barriers that prevent our becoming completely dependent on God. If we desire to truly be one with God, then we must give ourselves to God without reserve – holding nothing back. We must be ready and willing to accept God’s help and to accept the gifts that God so generously bestows.

At the same time this passage challenges us to provide others with the opportunity to serve us. If we insist on doing everything ourselves and if we constantly refuse offers of assistance then we deprive others of the privilege of being generous or of having the satisfaction of having made a difference in someone else’s life. In effect, by being determined to help, rather than to be helped, we lock people out of relationship with us, we deny them the opportunity to serve God through serving us and ultimately we prevent them from having a relationship with God through their relationship with us. (In other words we do the exact opposite of what Jesus is telling the disciples to do.)

By interpreting these verses in reverse – believing that we have to serve, instead of understanding that we must allow ourselves to be served – we may be participating in the greatest error that the church has made. Thinking that we have something to offer the world, it is possible that we have been blind to what the world has to offer us. By insisting on our independence and emphasising our strengths, we have attempted to cover up our weaknesses and our frailties and our need for assistance. We have become so sure of ourselves, and what we think we can provide to the world, that we have come to convince ourselves that others need us, not that we need them.

We want to serve the world, but in so doing have denied others the opportunity to find God through their service to us.

We want to give the world water to drink but have failed to realise that it is we who are parched.

 

 

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