For some reason I have always read these verses as if they were directed to the people to whom the disciples were going. As if Jesus was looking over his disciples’ shoulders to the towns to whom He was sending them and proclaiming that those who practice hospitality (towards them) would be the blessed ones. Therefore the first thoughts that come to my mind normally concern the question of hospitality.
Although these verses touch on the topic of hospitality, this may not have been the main thought on Jesus’ mind when He told his disciples, “anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me” (v 40 – NIRV). Rather, Jesus emphasised to the disciples that it is He that is sending them and that they will therefore be his representatives. By representing Jesus, they will actually be representing God.
In those days there were no systems like e-mail or even “snail mail”. If you wanted to send a message or a letter you needed someone to deliver it. The bearer of that letter became your representative. And if the message was to be delivered by mouth, the representative needed to be authorised and trustworthy. This meant that your message bearer appeared before the one to whom you send the message as if it is you who appear before him or her.
In verse 40 Jesus is telling his disciples, including us, that when we go out or reach out to others we do this as his representatives. This is not an excuse to be authoritarian! In verse 42 He calls the people he sends, “little ones”. To be a representative of Jesus and of God, is to be a bearer of the good news of God’s Kingdom. It is a motivation to be a servant.
When we truly believe that we carry or represent the presence of Christ to every person we encounter, the kindness of Christ should be revealed in each encounter. This should particularly be the approach in a world where there are so many signs of brokenness, for example the HIV pandemic.
To think about (or discuss): Does the thought that we represent Christ fill us with a sense of authority of with enthusiasm to serve?