November 25, 2017

No gesture of love is ever lost

Matthew 10: 40-42
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 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; and 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.’

No Gesture of Love is Ever Lost

“Whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

This is not quite how it happens in everyday life, is it? Well, things are indeed different with the gospel than with what normally happens in our everyday life. A small, a very small gesture of love is just enough for the greatest reward to be bestowed, for the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us always. And is not God’s promise of presence the gift of life abundant, of joy, of peace, of eternity? The gospel lesson teaches us three things and leaves us with one assured promise. The first is that God’s economy is not ours. The investment is totally disproportionate to the reward. The second is that those who we least expect to be able to reward us are the agents of God’s reward for us. It might seem ludicrous in the eyes of the world, but so has God chosen to run God’s kingdom. The third is that God does not reward us for our own merits but that God makes us into those in whom God is present.

A writer is without any paper to write on. Writing is the pleasure of her life and she is distressed at not having a single sheet of paper to write on. But you have a sheet of paper, a single sheet of paper which costs hardly anything. And you give this writer the sheet of paper which is hardly of any worth. Now the writer takes the sheet of paper and starts to write on it immediately. And instead of keeping the paper to herself she hands it back to you. And even more odd is what is written on it! It is a promissory note of a million dollars payable to you. This is not only bizarre but undoubtedly an unequal exchange. Well, what the gospel text talks about is something similar. A totally disproportionate exchange between the smallest gesture of love like giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty and poor fellow human and receiving in return the greatest gift of all, God’s very
presence in our lives, now and forever.

It may not be too much, in fact it is only very little that we can do, but as negligible in value as it might seem, if done in love, for the sake of the little ones, God’s promise will not fail and the reward is infinite. We do not know as to how this works for it belongs to the mystery of God’s infinite love, but it is like that writer who in receiving a simple sheet of paper of negligible worth returns the gift with another of incomparable value.

Now to the fable of the lion and the mouse. One day a mouse runs into a lion and it is struck frozen for it knew that it was about to turn into a meal. The poor mouse started pleading for its life. The mouse begged for a gesture of compassion from the lion, for the lion to give up its natural instincts for once and save the poor mouse’s life. And as part of the micely-measly bargain, the mouse tried to convince the lion that he would one day repay the lion for the sparing its life. The thought of a tiny mouse saving its life was so
ludicrous that the lion started laughing and told the little mouse that he would indeed curb his nature and show some compassion. The lion would not eat the mouse, but as far as paying back, that sounded ridiculous. How could a mouse save a lion’s life even if it wanted to? Well, it so happened that one day the lion was trapped by a hunter’s net and the more he struggled to untangle himself the more caught he was. There was no hope.

But there came the little mouse and saw the lion trapped by the net unable to get out. The mouse that had been laughed at as incapable of saving a lion’s life starts to gnaw on the strings of the net until the lion was set free. So much for the ridiculousness of a mouse saving a lion! It is not only that a simple gesture of love and compassion multiplies itself in the reward but it requires from us a certain amount of restrain. Like the lion that had to curb its predatory nature, so too are we. Love and compassion requires that we abandon for a moment the logic of this world, which would be natural to us. It asks us to stop calculating the possible return in our investment. It demands of us to stop asking the question: “Is it worth?” It may seem not worth the effort to give a cup of cold water to a little one, for the little ones are those who apparently cannot pay anyone back. It seems ludicrous to expect a reward from those who don’t have the resources. But that is the point. We might laugh at the prospective of a return of our investment because it was done for those who don’t seem to be able to repay us ever. But that is when the reward becomes of infinite value. As the letter to the Hebrews remind us: “Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some
people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

This brings me to the third lesson that this passage is teaching us. By doing even the smallest gesture of love and mercy we become that which we, by nature, are not. Any one, says the text, who welcomes a prophet as a prophet, will be regarded by God as prophet themselves, regardless of how weak and unfaithful one might be. Anyone, says the text, who welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person, will be regarded righteous by God, despite not having been quite righteous in her on his life. And anyone, says the text, who receives the little ones as if they were Jesus, will be regarded by God as God’s beloved child. We become what by nature we are not. By the rules of this world we are regarded as guilty by association. In God’s rule the contrary happens, we are saved by association, we are regarded holy by association. Indeed we become divine by being with those God most cares for, the little ones.

So, listen. Love is not cheap, for it goes against the ways of the world. It requires from us to go against the grain, a departure from the rules of the world. Love is not cheap, but it is gratuitous. It is the giving of the gift that keeps on giving and multiplying itself. But most important is the assurance, the promise that no act of kindness and mercy will ever be lost. No gesture of love will ever be lost! And the reward is already ours if we only believe.

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