“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Saint Matthew Chapter 10 Verse 40
I recently had the privilege of visiting a prominent Jesuit school. It was an experience which left memories that will linger for years to come. Among the many words of conversation, one comment seemed a particularly telling a reflection on the church today, ‘for most of the boys here, this school is church.’
Jesuit education is thorough. Jesuit faith is focused upon the development of a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet boys undergo such formation and still do not engage with the church.
What is wrong with the Roman Catholic church that such boys do not wish to engage with it? What is wrong with churches of all traditions that their membership is steadily falling?
Is there something to be learned by the church from the words used by Jesus in the Gospel reading?
In Saint Matthew 10 Verse 40, Jesus says, ‘welcomes me’, he is saying that his mission is about himself, his mission is to be himself.
He has not come as a representative of a religion, he has not come as part of an organization, he has not come as part of a group, he has simply come to be himself. Jesus’ mission is about himself and the work he is going to do.
The words “welcomes me” are important to understanding what it means to be Christian.
Being a Christian is not about a religion, it is about a relationship. Christianity is not about the church, it is about the person who should be at the heart of any church.
Is the faith of the church in Jesus? Is he the one who is welcomed? Or is it, too often the case, that faith is about the church, or tradition, or community?
‘Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple,’ says Jesus. The relationship with him is meant to overspill into relationships with those around. If there is no care for them, then there is no care for him.
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,’ Jesus’ ministry has not been about a religion, but has been about people who have a relationship with him. The words he uses demonstrate how important to Jesus that relationship has been. Whatever is done for them, is done for him, there is a personal connection between them that is so strong that he can sense the way in which they are treated, he can feel the hurts that they feel, he can know the joys that they know
What does Jesus’close connection with his disciples say to Christians about their faith? Is there a sense that something done for individual Christians is something done for him? Is there a sense that something done for him can be something that is done for individual Christian people?
Jesus’ words present a picture of God very different from the terrifying figure from the days of Moses, he points to a God with feelings, a God with compassion, a God who understands what it is like to be human.
‘Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’ This would have been a strange idea for those listening to Jesus.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham welcomes angels without realising who his guests are, but the idea of God being welcomed would have been alien to the traditional religion of Jesus’ followers. The only place where God might be approached was in the most sacred part of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the holy of holies, and the high priest was the only person who might approach the place where the people believed God’s presence was to be found.
The Temple was at the heart of the whole religion; for some people listening, Jesus’ words that welcoming him meant welcoming God would not have just been strange, they would have been a contradiction of everything they believed.
Faith now can be sometimes like that of the people of Jesus’ time. God is seen as being the sort of God that is found in the Temple. There is a subconscious split between Jesus and the one who sent him, between the Father and the Son and a loss of a sense of the reality of both.
It is because that division is allowed that the Father becomes a remote and distant God in a far off heaven, a terrifying deity who may only be approached with fear and trembling, while the Son becomes the man in the Bible stories, the man who walked in Galilee twenty centuries ago, but not someone who could be present or powerful in our lives.
Holding on to the idea that Jesus shares, ‘whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,’ means that seeing Father and Son in the way they are connected with each other and the way in which they are connected with people.
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’
You, me, the one who sent me; Jesus, the disciples, God; Jesus and people, the disciples and people, God and people. Christianity is a relationship or it is nothing at all.