The Bible Study that I am a part of in Tacoma is a very successful Bible Study, as Bible Studies go. The reasons for this are simple, but effective. It is at a regular place and at a regular time every week, (Monday at 7:30 P.M. Panera Bread, Tacoma Mall.) It is led by an extremely passionate and dynamic woman with a strong knack for names, faces and stories and a powerful love of Jesus. The core is a group of very close friends who have been going there for years, and a few new arrivals like myself who have sort of been adopted into the group. Finally, it has a very simple and effective format. Every meeting starts off at 7:30-45-ish (whenever the Filipinos show up) with introductions and the question of the day, which can be anything from “What was the most memorable spiritual experience of your life,” to “What was your worst ever haircut, and how did you end up with it?”
After that we pray and begin the actual Bible study portion. The plan is very simple. We read the readings of the day, meditate on them, and then discuss them. At about nine we do announcements and then go to Red Robin for bottomless fries, root beer (or real beer for the 21 or over) floats, and burgers.
Simple, but it works. I should do a Thugfang post about Bible studies sometime, but that isn’t what I set out to write about. It was a bit of a digression. I set out to write about one of the thoughts that came out of discussion from last week.
The Gospel from last Monday was Matthew 10:34 – 11:1. Of course there are enough passages in that gospel to spend hours and hours meditating and discussing, but in the interests of keeping this a blog and not a book, I just want to focus on the one line that struck me most powerfully, “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.” Matthew 10:41.
At first glance this seems unfair. All you have to do to earn a prophet’s reward is find yourself a prophet and offer him some hospitality. You don’t even have to be one yourself, which is a pretty sweet deal considering all the ostracism, shunning, stoning and whatnot that goes along with it. As my younger brother said, “Well, if that’s the case, sign me up. Come on, all you prophets, free hospitality right here!”
Which is exactly what I would say myself.
On a deeper level, this passage challenges a good many of my deep set notions of what religion, salvation, and heaven are all about. I mean, I had always thought that there are levels of reward in Heaven. Each person rises to the level that he opens himself to. The more spiritually developed you become on earth, the more room you have for heaven, so to speak. The priest has a higher vocation than the layman. He gives more, and as a result he is emptier and has more room to be filled with joy.
This is an overly simplistic way of putting it.This passage tells me that in reality it is not so simple, or maybe it is simpler, but not in the same way. Of course everyone must be completely empty before they can enter the Kingdom. Some choose that emptiness as a way of life, and I had assumed that they would have a head start when they got to the pearly gates, but maybe that is not the case.
When I read this passage it reminded me of Mother Teresa. She started the order, the Missionaries of Charity, whom she described as contemplatives in the midst of the world. That is, their charism is both to develop the deep, intimate relationship with God which we would associate with a contemplative order, and also to engage in active service for the poorest of the poor. They are known for their work throughout the world, and I assume that Mother Teresa has a very high place in Heaven. Not that she earned it, per se, but that by the evidence of her life I can only assume that she had an unusually close and deep and rich relationship with God.
What a lot of people do not know is that Mother Teresa also started another group, which she envisioned as being as large as the MC itself, sort of an auxiliary MC. There were two groups, really. One was composed of terminally or chronically ill people, people who could not leave their beds, who could not lead an active life. Their mission was to “adopt” a Missionary of Charity, and to offer up for them all of their prayers and sufferings and the frustrated desires of their lives. The other group was composed of lay people, man, women, children, families, lawyers, businessmen, blue collar workers, teachers, just your ordinary everyday people. Their job was very similar, to adopt spiritually a Missionary of Charity. In addition they were to support them financially in their work through donations, volunteer work, whatever they could.
Both of these “auxiliary” groups seemed to be working the lesser missions on face value. The Missionary of Charity sister or brother or priest is out in the field, doing the real missions. They are the ones going out into the gutters and streets, touching the lepers, smelling the rotting flesh, witnessing all the horror of poverty and degradation. The two other groups are no doubt useful in their way, but really, aren’t they just glorified ammo handlers, in the spiritual sense? Sitting at home, passing spiritual ammunition to the real spiritual warriors? How will they get a “holy man’s” reward simply because they supported a holy man?
But that is not Mother Teresa saw it. She did not view them as supports for MC’s work. Instead they and the missionaries were simply support for God’s work, each tools in the hand of God, which He used as He saw fit. It was not the task that they were called to do it, but how freely and lovingly they did it which mattered. She said, “No one can do great things for Jesus. Only little things with great love.” This from the woman who saved countless thousands of people from dying alone, friendless and despairing in the gutters and the slums around the world.
This is what I think Jesus meant in this passage. It is not the task that matters. The prophet’s task may be higher than the bricklayer’s task, but that does not mean that his reward is greater. Reward is not determined by task, since task is given by God, not earned by merits. The only possible thing that could be rewarded is response. The more wholeheartedly we open ourselves to the task that God gives us, the more we allow Him to empty us, stretch us, and fill us with Himself. That is the reward, as much of God as we can hold.
And this is how a man who gives a prophet a glass of water because he is a prophet can receive the prophet’s reward because of it. It all depends on how much love goes into that glass of water.