"The back room staff are every bit as important as the one for whom they work. We can't all be prophets or preachers - not all have that gift or ability."
We all like rewards, they're good for morale. The pat on the head given by father to child for a job well done or kindness shown, a reassuring slap on the shoulder that means "Well done, mate!", or an unexpected monetary reward for doing something for someone. These things are important. How else can I know if what I am doing is being appreciated if no-one tells me?
I well remember when I was at college and listening to a lecture in Business Studies that it was emphasised that one of the basic needs of anyone in a workplace environment, whether the job is easy, hard, stressful or stress free is the need to feel appreciated, to have the occasional pat on the back and be told "well done". It was right up there with the pay cheque and other benefits.
Sometimes we forget this important fact, and we forget it at our peril both in the workplace, our homes and our Churches.
Jesus knew a thing or two about motivation, and also about just what makes a person tick. He would do, of course. Just think about how little persuading the disciples took before they followed him, and then how he introduced them to more about life in the Kingdom as they were gradually able to understand .He even delegated some of his authority, to preach, heal and cast out demons in his name as soon as he felt they were ready to accept that authority.
How proud these men must have felt as he empowered them, their reward for the acceptance of his call to follow. Remember that these were pretty ordinary folk like you and I, assuming you are happy to be called pretty ordinary!
There's a wonderful quote, from whom it came I don't know, that Jesus did not choose extraordinary men, he chose ordinary men who could do ordinary things extraordinarily well. And that fits in so neatly with the two verses that form our text today.
In the preceding verses that lead up to verse 40 Jesus has been explaining that the task that lay ahead both for him and for those who acknowledged him would not be an easy one
Then in verse 40 we get this rather odd little passage which of course may or may not have followed on naturally from the rest of the text, or may have been placed there by Matthew because it was a saying of Jesus which seemed relevant to this theme. It's all about rewards - back slapping, head patting and the like. Or at least that's what it seems to be about on first reading. But there's actually a lot more in those 3 verses if we delve between the lines.
There's always a problem when we read our Bible, and that is that we live 2000 years after the events that took place and in a culture that is light years away. Words and phrases used by Jesus, the apostles and Prophets can sometimes seem a little strange to us, maybe even difficult to understand. And that's to be expected. We need to imagine ourselves into another culture and another time, and that's sometimes the only way that we can relate to what's being said.
In fact, Jesus was reminding his disciples and indeed anyone else who hears or reads the words that to a Jew it was natural to think that by welcoming a person's messenger you in effect welcomed the person themselves. To pay respect to an ambassador was to pay your respects to the king who had sent him.
If someone came to your house with the greetings of a friend, then you would welcome them into your home as if they were the friend who had sent the greeting - this was the done thing, a part of the culture and tradition of the time. And what a wonderful tradition it was. They were particularly careful to show respect to those who were the teachers of God's Laws.
The Rabbis said "He who shows hospitality to the wise is as if he brought the first fruits of his produce to God."
If the messenger is a man of God, then to welcome him is to welcome the God who sent him.
Within these verses as well as this picture of the rewards of giving hospitality and welcome, we also glimpse a picture of what might be called the chain of Salvation. It begins with God who initiated the means through which Salvation would be made possible.
Then there is Jesus who came with the message of Salvation through his words, his life and his death and resurrection. Then we have the human messengers - the prophets, apostles, teachers, good honest folk throughout the ages who have passed on the Good News of Salvation which they themselves have responded to. And lastly there are those who receive the one who brings the Good News and respond to it.
Have you watched the Oscar ceremonies and listened to those sometimes embarrassing speeches where the actor thanks everyone from the producer to his mother for enabling him or her to achieve the level of success that they have managed to obtain?
I well remember at a big Christian conference listening to a speaker being introduced. He was a very important man in the city, a merchant banker, who had flown in that very morning from Zurich to London, been picked up by his chauffeur and whisked across the country to Minehead so that he could address the conference and bring God's word to hundreds of people.
He could not have made the journey without a lot of organisation taking place, phone calls being made, people being in the right place at the right time, a backup team that enabled him to concentrate on the things that mattered.
And that's what it's often about, isn't it? The Hollywood actor couldn't have got where he was without the support of his mother, his agent, his wife and family and more importantly probably the whole production team who made the movie.
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena couldn't have achieved the success that they have without the help and encouragement of their father and all those who had faith in their abilities to succeed in their chosen sport.
The merchant banker could not have made that journey if he's had to make all the arrangements because it would have deflected his thoughts from a very important part of his life. He needed those around him who could make the phone calls, call the shots and point him in the right direction so that he could arrive at his destination focussed and ready to deliver God's word.
The back room staff are every bit as important as the one for whom they work. We can't all be prophets or preachers - not all have that gift or ability. And life would probably be pretty boring if everyone was identical. But most of us, even if we would consider ourselves to be pretty "ungifted" as individuals have the ability to offer hospitality or the hand of friendship to one who does and, says Jesus, their reward will be as great as that of the one they serve.
That's a pretty great promise, and one we need to hold onto.
Put that in the context of our own Churches and Chapels. How often do we take for granted those who accept tasks such as cleaning, preparing the flowers, greeting the minister or preacher, standing at the door to welcome the congregation - so many jobs that go together to make a Church function properly. And what of those who befriend others who come in through the doors of the Church, perhaps those who wouldn't normally be thought of as attractive in human terms.
Mother Teresa famously said that she treated every one of the lepers and outcasts under her care as if was Christ himself that she was serving. Isn't that just what Jesus was talking about in this passage?
Of course it has to be said that when Jesus talks about a reward it is not the reward itself that we should be seeking. Just like the unexpected pat on the back from a satisfied father, it is the serving that is important and not a form of self-seeking.
And what's the reward? What are we going after?
Jesus doesn't say and we shouldn't even contemplate. What Jesus is talking about here is the simple things of the Kingdom - showing love and humility. Being happy to to be the one who serves in the backroom team rather than the one who stands in the limelight. Being happy to be invisible and yet indispensable. People like this are the building blocks of the kingdom. As Mrs Browning said "All service ranks the same with God"