I recall a few years ago it was a fad to ask, who you would like to invite to your own dinner party for a good chat, selecting from all people across the globe. To make a choice you would do so on the strength of your expectation.
With a little stretching of the imagination we could say Jesus was laying the foundation for such a gathering. He lays before us a small table of people and invites us to sit at it with them. There is a prophet, a righteous person, a most desperately deprived person and of course himself. And he instructs us…
‘Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.’ He proceeds, ‘whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of a righteous person.’
Then he concludes with the note that in your meeting with the simplest most needy person, if you offer just a cup of water you will receive the pleasure of its reward.
Once again we are to try to the capture message he is trying to portray for us. The examples come in slightly different format, and the characters mentioned are of an interesting variety. But they are Jesus invites. We have been invited by Jesus to engage with each of the people. We will engage in conversation and presumably receive back something uniquely they have to offer. The different verses speak of this receiving back as a reward, each reward different according to the person.
A prophet, the prophets reward.
The righteous person, a righteous person’s reward.
Finally, the person of great need, yes even what they have to offer.
As we walk away and thinking about the evening and the interest we found in each person we will be feeling enriched by having come to know new people. But something else will come to mind. What interesting people Jesus had gathered together. We will feel we have been equally engaged with Jesus as the host of the dinner party. In his small gathering we will have found we came to know Jesus even through his friends.
Maybe as a day or so passes and we forget the detail of the conversation but just the pleasure of recalling the pleasure of being part of the group, maybe even a little special, we will feel that the gathering was almost a godly moment for they were Jesus people.
For Jesus did say in this passage, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Of course, life is not literally a dinner party. Real life is random. Yes, there are regular meetings with people, but there are also numerous other possibilities of people we randomly bump into. From the homeless beggar to the ‘power dressed executive. From the politician to the humble shop assistant. We can respond to each according to the way we perceive them, and we will receive whatever they have to offer.
The message from the gospel reading seeks to enlighten us to be aware that every encounter with another is a sacred opportunity. Every encounter has the potential to bring us to Jesus table whereby we meet him through his guests of life. Scripture puts it another way: Be on your guard when meeting strangers because you may be unexpectedly meeting angles.
There is one more point that our passage leads us to. The experience is in our hands. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? What is your attitude to life? Do you expect each encounter to bring a blessing, for whoever the person you meet is, they have something to offer, for they are a Child of God?
You could say life is a dinner party beckoning us to engage expectantly with others, for within our encounter with them we are coming face to face with Jesus.