Monday, June 26, 2017

Welcoming and Watering

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding Matthew 10:40-42, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel lesson for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, year A.
This entire chapter is a discourse that Jesus gives when sending the twelve out empowered and instructed to proclaim that the Reign of God is near. Therefore, some of the words of our pericope are echoes of earlier verses in c.10.

40  δεχόμενος ὑμᾶς ἐμὲ δέχεται, καὶ  ἐμὲ δεχόμενος δέχεται τὸν 
ἀποστείλαντά με. 
The one who welcomes you welcomes me, and the one who welcomes me welcomes the one having sent me.
δεχόμενος (2x): PMPart nsm, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up  2) to take up, receive  2a) used of a place receiving one  
δέχεται (2x): PMI 3s, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up  2) to take up, receive  2a) used of a place receiving one 
ἀποστείλαντά: AAPart asm, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  2b) to order one to depart, send off  2c) to drive away 

41 δεχόμενος προφήτην εἰς ὄνομα προφήτου μισθὸν προφήτου λήμψεται, 
καὶ  δεχόμενος δίκαιον εἰς ὄνομα δικαίου μισθὸν δικαίου λήμψεται. 
The one who welcomes a prophet in a name of a prophet will take up a reward of a prophet, and the one who welcomes a righteous one in a name of a righteous one will take up a reward of a righteous one.
δεχόμενος (2x): PMPart nsm, δέχομαι, 1) to take with the hand  1a) to take hold of, take up  2) to take up, receive  2a) used of a place receiving one  
λήμψεται (2x): FMI 3s, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it  1a1) to take up a thing to be carried (cf v.38)
1. To “welcome” someone or not is a topic that begins in v.14 of this chapter. It is paired with ‘hearing one’s word.’
 2. For the phrase “in the name of” see below.
3. Too many translations translate both δέχομαι and λαμβάνω in this verse as “receive.” Of course to “receive” is a way of “welcoming” as well as “taking up,” but by translating both words into one, we lose the distinction that Matthew provides between them, however similar they are.
4. The word “take up” (λαμβάνω) is also in v.38 with reference to taking up one’s cross.
5. The word μισθός could be translated ‘wage’ or ‘reward.’ I am inclined to go with ‘reward’ here, to distinguish it from the τροφή to which a worker is entitled in v.10.

42καὶ ὃς ἂν ποτίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων ποτήριον ψυχροῦ μόνον εἰς 
ὄνομα μαθητοῦ, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ. 
And whoever would water one of these little ones merely a cup of cold water in a name of a disciple, truly I say to you, would not lose his reward.
ποτίσῃ: AASubj 3s, ποτίζω, 1) to give to drink, to furnish drink 2) to water, irrigate (plants, fields etc.)  3) metaph. to imbue, saturate one's mind
ἀπολέσῃ: AASubj 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin 1b) render useless 1c) to kill 1d) to declare that one must be put to death 1e) metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell 1f) to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed 2) to destroy 2a) to lose (cf v.39)
1. It is curious that, regarding other persons, we do not have a direct equivalent for the word ‘water’ as we do for ‘feed.’ We ‘feed’ people and we ‘water’ plants, but when we ‘water’ another human we speak of ‘giving water’, not ‘watering.’
2. The verb ποτίζω (to water) shares the same root at the noun ποτήριον or ‘cup.’ Hence, I am adding the word ‘water,’ since nobody is satiated with a cup of cold.
2. Again the phrase “in the name of” is employed, only this time it is “in the name of a disciple.”   

Throughout this chapter, the question arises of what the phrase “in the name of” signifies. In the earlier verses the emphasis seems to be on the unity between Jesus and those who are sent “in my name” (v.22) or, “for my sake” (v.18). The apostles are being sent, not of their own accord, but on behalf of Jesus in proclaiming the nearness of the Reign of God. They are not merely representatives, but are empowered (v.20) in that what they say are words of God. Verse 22 explicitly uses the phrase “in my name” to describe this representation.

In verses 41 and 42, however, the emphases shift. In v.41 the phrase “in the name of” does not point to the relationship between the ‘sent’ and the ‘sender,’ but to the relationship between the welcomed and the welcomer. Now, the point is that the phrase “in the name of a prophet/righteous one” means that the host welcomes as a way of affirming that the recipient is a prophet/righteous one.

In verse 42, the emphasis is different still. The giver of water offers water to one of the little ones “in the name of a disciple.” That may be a way of recognizing that ‘little ones’ are disciples.  (I suppose we are to think of ‘little ones’ as dependent persons). Or, it may be a way of declaring that we offer water to the little ones, regardless of how they might be seen otherwise, as if they are disciples - that the assignation of ‘disciple’ to another is an act by the giver, not dependent on the known identity of the recipient. That is, when I find someone in need, I give that person sustenance as a disciple, regardless of whether that person does, in fact, fit into any definition of ‘disciple’ that I know.

This seems clearly to be Matthew speaking to the practices of the faith community rather than Jesus speaking to his departing disciples or the crowd that sees them leave.

Word Studies:
Welcome / δέχομαι
to take to one's self what is presented or brought by another, to accept, embrace, receive hospitably; admit, approve, allow. It implies a subjective reception, showing that a decision of the will has taken place with respect to the object presented, and that the acceptance manifests it.
10:14 “If anyone will not welcome δέξηται you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” 18:5: Whoever welcomes δέξηται one such child in my name welcomes me. 
Related to δεξιός, 1) the right, the right hand  2) metaph. a place of honor or authority

On δέχομαι and λαμβάνω (per
[Syn. δέχομαι, λαμβάνω: The earlier classic use of these verbs sustains in the main the distinction laid down in the glossaries, and the suggestion of a self-prompted taking still adheres to λαμβάνω in many connections  in distinction from a receiving of what is offered; in use, however, the words overlap and distinctions disappear; yet the suggestion of a welcoming or an appropriating reception generally cleaves to δέχομαι.

In the name of / εἰς ὄνομα : 20+ times in Mt.

1:21/23/25 naming Jesus; 6:9 “May your name be hallowed”; 7:22 “On that day many shall say, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name’?”; 10:2 name of the 12; 10:22 “and you will be hated by all because of my name”; [10:41-42]; 12:21 “And in his name the Gentiles will hope”; 18:5 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”; 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”; 19:29 “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,* and will inherit eternal life.”; Matthew 21.9: The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ Matthew 23.39: For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’ Matthew 24.5: For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!”* and they will lead many astray. Matthew 24.9: ‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Matthew 27.32: As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. Matthew 27.57: When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. Matthew 28.19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,


Ranks: The order in v.40 seems to be upward. You, me (the one sending you), and the one who sent me (God). The order in v.42 seems to be downward. Prophet, righteous one, one of these little ones (as a disciple). [Mt. 10:24-25 - ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave (δοῦλος) above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!] 

Mt 23:34 “Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 

NIB, VIII, p.263: “In the name of” is a Semitic expression meaning “because one is.”
Interp Bible v.7, -.376f: Jewish rule, “A man’s emissary is like the man himself” (Berakoth 5:5)
“sent” = root for “apostle”
Three groups: Prophets; righteous ones; little ones/ordinary disciples.
“cup of cold water” is a proverbial expression for a minor service. “practical lovingkindness” is the result and test of discipleship.
Absence of participles in vv 38-42 show that it was spoken with great emotion.  “Lack of participles?” What about δεχόμενος or ἀποστείλαντά?

From “The Vision of Sir Launfal” by James Russell Lowell
[It is the voice of Christ speaking]
… The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
In whatso we share with another's need;
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me."


  1. Thank you, Mark! This is great.

  2. Thank you for explaining so clearly the difference between two very similar Greek words (much appreciated by someone who has merely dabbled in the basics of Greek grammar!)

  3. Thanks Ted. And Ruth. Blessings on your study and preaching.

  4. You've helped me (and my Bible study group) see more in this passage than meets the eye - thanks!


  5. I'm intrigued by your comment; "That is, when I find someone in need, I give that person sustenance as a disciple, regardless of whether that person does, in fact, fit into any definition of ‘disciple’ that I know." In my mind, I'm thinking about how we as human beings tend to determine who and who is not worthy of our help or generosity based on their status within our preferred group/tribe/class/etc. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Loren,
      Yes, I think you are right that we tend to evaluate others - even those in need - to see if they are worthy of our help, and that the criteria of our evaluation reveal our tribal mentalities. One way that we can read Matthew's story is that our approach ought to be see the other as a disciple. That would put the onus on us, to treat the other as we would a disciple, instead of putting the onus on the other to prove their genuine need or worth. Phrases like "the deserving poor" would have no place in that kind of approach.
      Thanks for your comment.

  6. I'm curious about the seeming emphasis on a COLD drink. And that the word 'water' is assumed but not in the text. And the word monon (which seems to be an adjective of the cup) = the only cold cup. So, not 'mere' but the opposite!

    Could it be that the cold cup was reserved for 'special' people (esp if the cup contains wine) and the hoi polloi just drank from ordinary cups. Jesus' point would then be that if you give the special cup to the smallest = least significant (micro-minor) person, then you are treating them as if they are important (mega/major) and so the reward follows for you.

  7. This was helpful. Especially the discussion of "in the name of" and "welcome/receive" - thanks.


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