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By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE
FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
The story is told of an old man whose grandson rode a donkey while they were traveling from one city to another. The man heard some people say, “Would you look at that old man suffering on his feet while that strong young boy is totally capable of walking?”
So then the old man rode the donkey while the boy walked. And he heard some people say, “Would you look at that, a healthy man making the poor young boy suffer. Can you believe it?”
So the man and the boy both rode the donkey and they heard some people say, “Would you look at those heavy brutes making the poor donkey suffer.” So they both got off and walked, until they heard some people say, “Would you look at the waste—a perfectly good donkey not being used.”
In the final scene, the boy is walking and the old man is carrying the donkey.
The moral of the story: No matter what you do, someone can always criticize it.
Oswald Chambers, the great Christian writer, noted,
“Someone who is constantly criticized
becomes good for nothing;
the effect of criticism
knocks all the gumption and power out of the person.
Criticism is deadly in its effect
because it divides one’s powers
and prevents one from being a force for anything.
That is never the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit alone is in the true position of a critic:
He is able to show what is wrong,
without wounding or hurting.
“The counsel of Jesus is to abstain from judging.
This sounds strange at first,
because the characteristic of the Holy Spirit in a Christian
is to reveal the things that are wrong;
but the strangeness exists only on the surface.
The Holy Spirit does reveal what is wrong in others,
but His discernment is never for the purposes of criticism,
but for the purposes of intercession.”
John Dewey, the great education philosopher likewise:
“People do not shoot at targets because they are there.
They want to shoot,
and set up targets to have something to shoot at.”
What is the opposite of criticism? It is acceptance, support, encouragement. We all need that to be our best selves. It is said of parents rearing children that our children become what we think of them. If we think they fall short and do not meet our expectations, then that is what they will become. If we support and encourage them, see them in the best way, they will rise to the challenge. The president of Sloan-Kettering Laboratories once told a medical convention,
“My father was a country doctor.
We now know, scientifically speaking,
that he didn’t carry a thing in that black bag that would cure anybody.
But people got well because he patted them
and said, ‘You’re going to make it’.”
That encouragement released the body’s amazing power to heal itself. “Man lives by affirmation even more than he lives by bread,” Victor Hugo wrote and it is true. It is true in our marriages and families, it is true at work and at school and we know it is true for ourselves.
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Some years ago a report came over the news wires about a man who committed suicide at his place of employment. What made the report newsworthy was the note that the man left to his boss. The note was placed so that it would be found as his body was found. It read: “I have worked for you for more than thirty years and in all those years, you never once told me anything I did well. You only told me what I did wrong.” We can understand that well. I know I can.
Jesus, in today’s Gospel, is encouraging the disciples to go out. Certainly He knows that they will encounter opposition, persecution, many of them will suffer for being a disciple of Jesus—even be put to death for their faith and witness. But Jesus is encouraging his followers to find those who will support them, uplift them, encourage them as they go about their ministry. The better translation for the word, “welcome,” is “receive” which is deeper than just friendliness. To be received means taking the disciple in, heeding the words proclaimed, accepting the teaching, praying for the apostle: “Whoever receives you, receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Here in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is clearly saying that He was sent from God the Father into the world. Jesus reveals God. If we want to know about God, God’s word and will, then we look to Jesus. Jesus is the clearest Word from God. And as Jesus is to His Heavenly Father, so is the disciple to Jesus. Those who receive the disciple, welcome the disciple, really are doing that for the Lord. And there is a reward attached in this text: Those who receive the prophet will receive the prophet’s reward; those who receive the righteous will receive the reward of the righteous; those who give even a cup of cold water to the little one in the name of the disciple will receive their reward.
Jesus is telling His followers that they will be received and welcomed and honored and supported in their ministry. Suffering and persecution and rejection will come but that is not the only response. Yes, they will go to some towns and people will not welcome them, receive them, listen to them. What is the disciple to do? Shake the dust off their feet and leave that place. What will happen to those who reject the Gospel and do not receive the apostles’ teaching. They will be rejected by God. Jesus in our same chapter of Matthew tells the disciples:
“If anyone will not welcome you—
receive you—or listen to your words,
shake off the dust from your feet
as you leave that house or town.
Truly I tell you, it will more tolerable
for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah
on the day of judgment
than for that town.”
I have visited Sodom and Gomorrah in the desert near the Dead Sea in Jordan . All that remains is a hill of sand surrounded by barbed wire. Nothing grows there and no one lives there. Jesus is making it clear to His followers then and now that some people will welcome them, receive them, listen to them and accept the Gospel. For them God will give every blessing even the blessing of eternal life. Those who reject the Gospel and the disciples who bring the Gospel will likewise be rejected. These words may seem harsh but they are meant for encouragement for Christians. God gives us the power to witness to His love. God gives us the support to live out our faith in daily life. God promises us every blessing as we are faithful.
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s where Jesus told his followers “Do not fear those who kill the body but can not kill the soul.” Jesus is telling us not to worry about what others think of us or what they say about us. We should care more about what God thinks of us than what other humans think. And we should live out our life being kind, welcoming, encouraging of others. We do not like to be criticized and neither do others. As Martin Luther wrote and we memorized: “You shall not fear false witness against your neighbor.” What does this mean?
“We are to fear and love God
so that we do not betray, slander or lie about our neighbor,
but defend him, speak well of him
and explain his actions in the kindest way.”
Or as Thumper said in the Disney movie, Bambi ,
“If you can’t say somethin’ nice about someone,
you shouldn’t say nothin’ at all.”
Be encouraged in your faith and your witness. God is with you and Christ is promising you a great reward for your faithfulness. Support others in their ministry. Encourage them in their service, welcome them and receive them as from Christ Himself. Pray for them instead of criticizing them. Put the best construction on what they say or do. Encourage others in their faith and witness and great will be your reward in heaven. Amen.
— Copyright 2005, James D. Kegel