I collect reward points when I shop. I do it when I shop online through cash back incentives. I collect PC Points, Petro Points, and Air Miles. When I purchase things with my credit card I earn points I can spend on travel or other items. These rewards and incentives are built into our shopping experience. Where we shop may be dictated as much by if the retailer in question will reward us with the points we collect. We want to maximize our earnings and as a result we are always asking what’s in it for us?
Why should I shop in your store? Other than the item I want to buy, what can you offer me? We might even be willing to pay more for an item if we can also earn our points, doing the mental math to see if we will come out ahead in the long run. We might also ask if the store we are shopping at is ethical in the way it treats its employees and by how it sources its products. Stores no longer compete just on price or quality, but also with the incentives they are able to offer consumers.
It takes the idea of the consumer society to new levels. Jesus clearly had something to say about rewards as well. In our passage from Matthew he talks about a prophet’s reward, the rewards of the righteous and about not losing our reward. Before we get excited about what our reward is for being a Christian, let’s set the scene and place this very short passage within its context in Matthew.
This passage comes at the end of the passages we’ve been looking at over the past few weeks, it wraps it up. In those passages we have read:
- Jesus sends out the twelve to gather the lost sheep of Israel.
- He sends them out penniless.
- He sends them out as sheep among wolves
- He warns them brother will betray brother to death.
- He tells them that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword, that his message would cause division.
This all might make you start to think twice about those rewards we were just talking about. Let’s deal with the prophet’s reward. The prophet spoke with God’s voice and God’s authority and sometimes people didn’t want to hear it. False prophets were stoned to death for lying. True prophets were stoned to death for telling the truth. What is the prophet’s reward? Death.
John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, was arrested and beheaded for speaking the truth.
Jesus was arrested and crucified for speaking the truth.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes, “You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out” (1 Thess 2:14b-15a).
The path of Christ is to share a message that much of the world doesn’t want to hear. Far too many people are pre-occupied with their own self-interest, they believe the rewards they earn should benefit them and not other people. Friends, you don’t become a Christian so that you can make connections for work or gain a promotion. This isn’t that kind of club.
Knowing what the consequences might be Jesus still sends the disciples out, sends us out. Now at this point your thinking, it’s ok I don’t want the prophets reward. I’ll take the reward of the righteous person instead! It’s like The Price is Right, I’ll take door number two!
There are lots of righteous characters in scripture I can model myself after Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, King David. Well here’s the catch about all this reward stuff as it’s framed in our passage today, you aren’t getting the rewards. We might say you’ve already received them, but in this passage Jesus is sending you out. The person getting the reward is the one who receives you. The only reward you will receive is the hospitality of the one who is welcoming you. This implies, that you must go out.
You must go out so that others can receive their reward. A relationship with Jesus Christ. Prof. Elisabeth Johnson writes, “In the ancient world identity was tied to family and community. It was understood that in showing hospitality, one welcomed not just an individual, but implicitly, the community who sent the person and all that they represent. Therefore, welcoming a disciple of Jesus would mean receiving the very presence of Jesus himself and of the one who sent him, God the Father” (Elisabeth Johnson).
You must go out so that others can receive. You must be willing to accept the hospitality of others in order that they can receive that rewards which awaits in heaven at the end of all things. For some, receiving this reward might place a fire on their hearts to fight for justice and this might cost them; the prophets reward. For others a righteous reward, a role model of grace and peace of a life lived in harmony with our creator. But we must go out so that others may receive.
Later in her commentary Prof. Johnson poses the following question, “What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors, and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them? What would happen if we truly believed that we bear the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, in every home, workplace, or neighborhood we enter? What would happen if we saw every conversation as an opportunity to speak words of grace, every interaction as an opportunity to embody Christ’s love for the neighbor?” (Elisabeth Johnson).
What would that look like?
While the times we live in might make it difficult to go out, we can still find creative opportunities to connect with people. Remember that as you do connect with family and friends, neighbours and strangers that you bear the presence of Christ with you in every interaction. When they welcome you, they welcome Christ. And in doing so they open themselves up to receiving the reward of life, of grace, of mercy and of peace that can only come through knowing Christ. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.