This gospel reminds me of another one. In our gospel today, Jesus talks about rewards. He says that anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward, and anyone who welcomes a holy person will have a holy person’s reward. This talk of rewards reminds me of another place where Jesus talks about rewards. You might remember it?
It is the gospel that we usually have on Ash Wednesday, where Jesus warns people about hypocrisy. Jesus tells people not to give money like the hypocrites, not to pray like the hypocrites, and not to fast like the hypocrites. Jesus says these people are pretending to do it for the right reasons, when in fact they are doing it for public acclaim. They give and pray and fast loudly and publicly. The hypocrites really want to be known as good persons more than they actually want to be good persons. The reason why they act is not simply because it is the right thing to do, but rather because it will be popular. They prefer applause as a reason for acting, and in fact prefer it over reason itself.
And then with each example of hypocrisy, Jesus says that they have had their reward. Because they have aimed for public acclaim, that is their reward. There is nothing beyond this. They have aimed at something and got it. But it raises the question: what is the reward for people who do all these things for the right reasons? What is the reward for people who do what is right simply because it is right?
Well, when you say it out loud, then you realise that the reward is simply the action itself. The people who are doing what is right are not looking for a reward; they simply want to do what is right. However, I think there might be more to it than that. And I think this extra element might help us with today’s gospel.
The people who do what is right because it is right desire a righteous world. They desire a rational world in which people act for the right reasons. They desire a world in which justice is present. In which goodness is the truth. In which suffering is no more. By their actions – even though their actions seek no reward – by their actions these people point to something greater.
They evidence faith in goodness, and they hope that it will prevail. They manifest that they are citizens of the kingdom of God, and reveal that they are in communion with the Word of God, the Logos who commands them to do what is right. Their reward, then, might be the fulfilment of their hopes, the manifestation of the kingdom of God and their securing of their place within it. In their obedience to the Word of God, they show their trust in the fullness of God’s Word, the fullness of the promises within it.
We can therefore see two connections with today’s gospel. The first is between the hypocrites in the other gospel and those mentioned in the first part of today’s gospel, those who prefer someone over God. Those who prefer someone over God, prefer something other than truth, something other than meaning. Indeed, they prefer it over the fullness of God’s word. In reality, in preferring someone to God, they have lost the other person too, because their relationship is false because it is not based in God.
The second connection with today’s gospel is that sense of being connected to something more. That link, that communion with the Word of God. The reason why someone who receives a prophet will have a prophet’s reward is because they have recognised that the prophet is a prophet. And the reason why they have recognised the prophet as a prophet is because they have recognised the Word of God as present in the prophet. Thus, those who welcome the prophet stand in the same relationship to the Word of God as the prophet. They recognise Jesus and they welcome him.
Indeed, if we compare it to the other gospel, the prophet is one of those who simply does what is the right thing to do. And therefore so is the one who welcomes the prophet. The prophet is the one who is obedient to the Word of God and, in being obedient, proclaims the Word of God to others, and proclaims the fullness of that Word which is kingdom of God to come. The prophet then is in communion with the Word of God. Likewise, the one who welcomes the prophet responds correctly to the Good News by welcoming it, just does the right thing. The welcomer is also then in communion with the Word.
The depth of this communion is also revealed in today’s Gospel. Jesus says that anyone who welcomes his messengers, welcomes him; and anyone who welcomes him, welcomes the one who sent him. His communion with the Father is the source of our communion. This is why it makes no sense to prefer anyone over Christ, as though you could have a relationship with anyone without love himself.
In these two gospels, we see the Kingdom of God taking flesh. We see the Word of God both becoming incarnate and drawing all people to himself. We see the reality of the Eucharist presented to us, the relationship between the Father and the Son being extended to the Church, to the communion of Saints, to us.
So, let us pray for the ears to hear and the eyes to see the Word of God in our lives. That we may always welcome the Word into our lives and so proclaim joyfully the kingdom of God to our brothers and sisters.