Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Matthew 10.40-42
Proper 8 - Year A

Other texts:

Our verses come at the end of Jesus' missionary discourse to his disciples (10:5-42). Up to this point, Jesus has been talking about what the disciples are to do and the difficulties that they will face -- what others will do to them. In our verses, the focus is on those who will (or won't) welcome the disciples and what God will do to them.

Our text contains three sayings of Jesus (vv. 40, 41, & 42). They are connected with each other by some common words. The first two sayings are connected by the word dechomai = "welcome" or "receive". This word also connects these concluding verses of the missionary discourse with the opening charge: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town" (10:14).

The second saying is connected to the third by the word misthos = "reward".


Malina & Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) write about v. 14:

"To welcome" a person means to show hospitality. Hospitality is the process by means of which a stranger is taken under the protection of a host (patron) for a given time, to leave that protection either as friend or enemy. [p. 87]

A little later they write about v. 40:

Positive outcomes allows the one showing hospitality to reciprocate good treatment by the person in question as well as his kinship network. Keeping kinship networks in view is important, since ancient Mediterranean societies were not individualist. They had what is called a "dyadic" view of personality: every person is embedded in other persons (especially the family) and derives his/her sense of identity from their group to which he/she belongs. Thus people can be stereotyped (see Mark 6:3; 14:70; John 1:46; 7:52; Titus 1:13) because it is expected that family or place of origin or occupation encodes what is needed in order to know what a person is. It is also assumed that identity, character, and patterns of behavior exist in and are shaped by this web of interconnected relationships. Exactly this kind of dyadic relationship is assumed here. [p. 92]

In the first century, there was not a sense of "the individual," but the individual was always part of a group. So, even if an individual welcomed another individual, they symbolized one group welcoming another group.

If I were to invite a Latino, or Asian, or Black or homosexual person to church, there is a sense that the entire congregation is then welcoming that minority into its fellowship. We don't just represent ourselves, but the group(s) that give us (part of) our identities.


It would seem from the parallels, that these three sayings were not originally together; but that Matthew or his source combined them. I will look at each saying separately and their parallels.


Matthew 10:40

The one who welcomes [dechomai] you is welcoming [dechomai] me,
and the one who welcomes [dechomai] me
is welcoming [dechomai] the one who sent [apostello] me.

PARALLEL #1 (a Q source?) Luke 10:16

The one who hears you is hearing me
and the one who rejects you is rejecting me
and the one who rejects me
is rejecting the one who sent [apostello] me.

If these sayings came from a common source, one or the other or both Gospel writers adapted them for his own emphasis. A more conservative view might suggest that Jesus said similar things at different occasions.

PARALLEL #2 (a John source?) John 13:20

Amen, amen I am saying to you,
the one who would receive [lambano] whomever I am sending
is receiving [lambano] me
and the one who receives [lambano] me
is receiving [lambano] the one who sent [pempo] me.

This saying is closer to Matthew's than Luke's. The meanings of dechomai and lambano overlap. I'll point out some differences later. In John apostello and pempo are used interchangeably. John, like Matthew, does not have the negative saying -- the "rejection" of Luke's version.

PARALLEL #3? Matthew 18:5 (// Mark 9:37 // Luke 9:48)

Whoever would welcome [dechomai]
one such little child in my name
is welcoming [dechomai] me.

This saying is similar to our text. However, the emphasis in our text is on those who are welcomed -- namely, the disciples/missionaries whom Jesus is sending out. In Mt 18:5 & par. the emphasis is on the those who do the welcoming.

Welcoming the messenger as one would welcome the message-sender was a common thought in the early church.

Ignatius in his letter to the Ephesians (6:16): "You see, anyone whom the house manager sends on personal business should be welcomed as [though he were] the manager himself."

Didache 11:4: "Every apostle who comes to you should be welcomed as [you would welcome] the Lord.

These quotes, like Mt 18:5, center on the importance of welcoming others as if they were Christ -- a thought that is important for our congregations. However, our text, as part of the missionary discourse, puts the emphasis on those travelers who are welcomed (or not welcomed) by others. They go as Christ's representatives. The words they speak are not their own but Christ's. (Dechomai is also used of "welcoming/receiving" words.)

Especially related to the "dyadic" understanding presented by Malina and Rohrbaugh in the quote above, we never represent just ourselves, but our families, and most importantly for this text, the faith group to which we belong.

While this understanding certainly should apply to all Christians, it is more likely to be understood of the clergy. We don't just represent ourselves, but the church we serve, the denomination we serve, and the God we serve. I have found that many people assume that we as clergy bring Christ's presence with us wherever they go. I'm sure that all clergy have stories to relate how their presence affected the words and behavior of the people around them. E.g., an individual says, "damn," then realizes that I could hear, then apologizes, "I'm sorry pastor."

I don't think that representing Christ is necessarily bad -- as long as it doesn't go to our heads. I hope that when I walk into a hospital room, that the presence of Christ I represent brings some comfort to the sick and dying. I hope that as preacher and presider, the words and actions are more than just my own, but somehow are the words and actions that Christ would say and do within the community.

How different would the "ministry" of the laity be if all the baptized took seriously the understanding that they are Christ's presence in the world? Or, that the way they are treating other believers is the way they are treating Christ?

Although, to put this more in the textual context, which is about how the believers are welcomed: How different would the relationships be between congregation and clergy if the congregations took seriously the understanding that they way they continue to welcome (the verbs are present tense) their clergy beyond the "honeymoon" period, is a reflection of they way they are welcoming Christ and the one who sent him?

Wisdom 19:13-16 gives an account of people who are not so welcoming and the severe consequences they may face:

13 The punishments did not come upon the sinners
without prior signs in the violence of thunder,
for they justly suffered because of their wicked acts;
for they practiced a more bitter hatred of strangers.
14 Others had refused to receive [dechomai] strangers when they came to them,
but these made slaves of guests who were their benefactors.
15 And not only so -- but, while punishment of some sort will come upon the former
for having received [prosdechomai] strangers with hostility,
16 the latter, having first received [eisdechomai] them with festal celebrations,
afterwards afflicted with terrible sufferings
those who had already shared the same rights. [NRSV]

The CEV adds a number of interpretive words:

"Those sinful Egyptians had a terrible hatred for strangers, and so you punished them horribly, but not without first warning them with violent thunderstorms. Years earlier, the people of Sodom had refused to welcome strangers, and they were punished for what they did. But these Egyptians did much worse. They first welcomed our ancestors with a glorious celebration, and then after we had helped their nation, they made slaves of us, even though we were citizens like everyone else."


Matthew 10:41 has no parallels

The one who welcomes [dechomai] a prophet
in the name of a prophet
the reward of a prophet
that one shall receive [lambano].
The one who welcomes [dechomai] a righteous person
in the name of a righteous person
the reward of a righteous person
that one shall receive [lambano].

Although the meanings of dechomai and lambano greatly overlap, a difference can be noted that dechomai can be more passive: "receiving what has been given," e.g., welcoming the person who has come through the door. lambano can be more active: "receiving what one has gone out and taken," e.g., it is used of collecting taxes.

What does Matthew mean by "prophet" and "righteous"?

We know from 1 Corinthians 12:28, 29 and 14:29 that there were "prophets" in the early church. It was a special gift given to some people. Mt 7:22 may indicate that there were such prophets as well as false-prophets in Matthew's community.

If Mt is referring to a group of people by "prophets," then the same may be true of dikaios. Some have suggested that they have been the more prominent believers (in contrast to the "little ones" in the next saying). It may have been word used like we sometimes use "saints" to refer to some special Christians whose words and actions are exemplary of the faith.

There are some other possibilities for these terms.

Both terms are used of Jesus in Matthew: "prophet" -- 13:57; 16:14; 21:11; 21:46 & "righteous" or "innocent" -- 27:4, 19, 24. So one meaning may be that those who come are like Jesus, both prophetic and righteous.

Another distinction may be that pro+phemi (the basis for "prophet") centers on speaking -- literally, "speaking before" (which could be "before" in terms of time, e.g., fore-telling; or "before" in terms of space, e.g., speaking before others = speaking publicly).

dikaios -- "righteous" may center more on actions -- living in obedience to the law.

Thus the phrase could refer to "words" and "deeds". That is, those coming, speaking the word of God and those coming, doing the deeds of God.

These two words are used together in 13:17 & 23:29 where they seem to be a common phrase to refer to the faithful people in Israel's past.

Essential, they seem to refer to a person of God, or might simply say, a believer.

What is the "reward of a prophet" or the "reward of a righteous person"?

The origin of misthos comes from the verb meaning "to hire," (misthoomai -- used in NT only at Mt 20:1 & 7) and thus means the amount paid to the hiree. It refers to what a person has earned and thus deserves -- which may be negative or positive rewards. (I will present a more detailed study of this word at the end of the notes.)

Generally in Matthew, what the prophets received was not positive: persecution (5:12); being unwelcomed (13:57); and death (23:30, 31, 34, 37).

It is more positive for "the righteous". They are promised the kingdom (13:43, 49; 25:34-40) and eternal life (25:46).

It may be that for those who are faithful to Jesus the "rewards" we receive include both positive things and some negative ones. Can we have one without the other? All the blessings of believing without the persecution? The resurrection to new life without the suffering and dying (to self)? The "crown" without the "cross"?

These "reward" phrases in our text may be understood in a different way. Rather than being the reward that a prophet or righteous person receives, the genitive "the reward of a prophet/righteous person" could be understood to mean that the reward is the presence of the prophet or the presence of the righteous person. The welcomer is blessed with the presence of the prophet and/or the righteous person. The non-welcomer misses out on the reward of their presence. Given that welcoming "you" in v. 40 was the same as welcoming Christ, it could be suggested that welcoming a prophet or righteous person brings the reward of the presence of Christ through their words and deeds. Can we say that if we want Christ in our presence, we need to welcome his representatives? (Conversely, we who are believers, need to see ourselves as being the presence of Christ to those who welcome us.)


Matthew 10:42

Whoever would give only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple
amen I am saying to you,
that one would not lose one's reward.

PARALLEL: Mark 9:41

For whoever would give a cup of water
to you in my name, because you belong to Christ,
amen I am saying to you that
that one would not lose one's reward.

Note that Matthew has changed Mark's second person "you" to "these little ones" [mikros]. Here one is doing something positive for a "little one" with a positive reward. In 18:6 there is a negative: "Putting a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea."

It is likely that "little ones" didn't refer to children, but to new converts -- "little ones" in the faith -- new disciples. As I mentioned above, perhaps in contrast to the "righteous ones" -- those mature in the faith. While the mature might be able to withstand persecution, causing a "little one" to stumble (18:6) brought great punishment; but showing compassion to a "little one" brought reward.

The "one's reward" or "reward of him" can have the same understandings of the "rewards" mentioned above. The "him" could refer to the drink-giver who is rewarded for his good deed. The "him" could refer to the helped-disciple = the drink-giver will not lose the reward of the disciple's presence = the presence of Christ. (More about "reward" will come at the end of the notes.)

The last saying points ahead to the great judgment in 25:31-46. In 25:40 & 45, elachistos is used ("least") which is used as the superlative of mikros. Also potizo -- "give to drink" is used three times in the parable (25:35, 37, 42). Its only other occurrence is 27:48 where a bystander offers Jesus some sour wine to drink.

Generally Matthew's emphasis is on the disciples being good hosts -- caring for the least of Jesus' family; but in our text, he turns it around. The missionaries are the ones who are being cared for by others. We need to be gracious guests. We need to learn to accept help from others. Often, I have found, the most caring people can be the ones who are least likely to accept any help for themselves. As followers of Christ, we need to be both care-givers and care-receivers -- receiving from others -- allowing them to use their gifts to help us; and primarily receiving from God, from whom our eternal reward comes.

In addition, these concluding verses to the missionary discourse give the reason why we need to "go out with the gospel," our neighbors need it. Their welcoming of Jesus' messengers -- namely, us -- can be salvific. This does not mean that we save them, but by our words and deeds, we bring Christ's presence to them. They may accept or reject that; but without our words and deeds, they will not experience Christ in their midst.


The use of "reward" can be a problematic word. Salvation comes as a gift and not as a reward. I present a brief study of the word group [misth-] as used in Matthew, who uses only two words from this group [misthos (noun) & misthoomai (verb)].

I would phrase the basic meaning of this word group as "getting what one deserves." What one deserves to get may be positive, e.g., wages, rewards; or negative, e.g., punishment.

There are three places where Matthew uses these words: The Sermon on the Mount; the parable of the workers in the vineyard; and our text -- the end of the missionary discourse. I look at each section.


In the sermon, Jesus says:

What seems to be true about these verses is the contrasting "rewards" one receives from heaven and from "earth".

earthly = persecution vs. heavenly = great reward
earthly = seen as "pious" by others vs. heavenly = nothing


The verbal form of the word occurs in 20:1, 7, meaning "to hire." The laborers would work and the landowner would pay them. Note that in v. 2 the laborers helped determine what pay they would deserve.

The noun is used in v. 8 (NRSV = "pay;" NIV = "wages"). The first group hired, who were paid last, received what they had earlier agreed they deserved for a day's work. The other workers received what the landowner determined they deserved -- and his criteria for "giving what they deserved" wasn't quite what the first workers (nor most of us) would have expected.


The noun occurs in our text in vv. 41, 42. I suggested in my notes that "prophet's reward" and "righteous persons' reward" might be understood as "the reward of a prophet" and "the reward of a righteous person." That is, the presence of the welcomed prophet or righteous person is its own reward -- welcomers get what they deserve = a prophet or a righteous person in their midst.

In v. 42, we are not told what the reward is, nor who gives it. Related to the others "reward" sayings, I think that we can conclude that it is the heavenly reward that God gives. What we also seen in the other contexts is that God's determination of "what one deserves" does not follow earthly or human criteria.


I don't think that the word group in Matthew loses its meaning of "getting what one deserves," but that we cannot fully understand the way God determines our deserved-ness. God does not judge "works" in the same way that we do. God sees what is hidden. We don't. So, we have to live by faith, trusting that we will be judged worthy by God and by God's criteria to receive what is deserved.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901