Only A Cup of Cold Water
Ordinary 13 Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 10: 37 — 42
Our Lord has been briefing his chosen apostles; we might even say “drilling” them. He has called them and they have responded. Now they need to be taken a step further in their overall preparation for service, to complete the first phase of their induction training. The same lesson, of course, is to be handed down, over time, to each generation of Christians.
It may help us to realise that we are here introduced to a common rabbinic style of teaching. We could almost say this passage gives us a small glimpse into the Jewish method of formation of disciples by their rabbis. We are given the backbone of the lesson which our Lord’s disciples would have taken away and reflected on before returning to Him for further enlightenment. During subsequent sessions, the disciples would be drawn into discussing, analysing, explaining, questioning, sharing insights and deepening their understanding. Jesus did not treat His disciples as though they were a bunch of sponges who just absorbed His words in silence and ecstasy: He challenged them to review what He had said, reflect on and wrestle with the ideas. This repeated process led to a sharpening of their focus on Him and His essential teaching. Our passage is a distillation of that rabbinic process. (This set of Reflections is part of our approach to Scripture Meditation which is closely aligned to this ancient rabbinic practice. It is part of our Jewish patrimony and will help explain why we are proceeding in this manner.)
Some Reflections On the Text
Our text is believed to have been preserved in its original form and thus to have retained our Lord’s schematic outline which appears to have two parts; although some see it as a collection of sayings from various occasions.
Phase One: Acting at a natural level — statements of fact.
Jesus had already taught that He had not come to destroy or abolish any of the Law, but to fulfil it. (Matt. 5: 17). Later He would declare the Greatest Commandment and the second, like it, adding that all the Law and the Prophets hung on these two Commandments. (Matt. 22: 37 — 40). All of this was assumed as background knowledge the disciples of Jesus were to keep in mind: God was always to be first in their lives.
Now, in three verses, Jesus makes three points in an ascending order of hardship to emphasise the phrase, “for my sake”. We are in rabbinic school, and this is how He presents His doctrine. He does not open with words such as: “Gentlemen, today we will consider aspects of natural and supernatural life.”
In the tradition of the culture, He opens with a stunning quandary — and, yes, the disciples would have shrunk back, just as we might. They will learn to think with the mind of Christ by interacting with Him at an intimate level. We can do the same in our study and reflection / meditation, our wrestling with His Word, which is why we approach it in this way. Yes, we feed on it as lions, tearing it open and leaving nothing behind! The enthusiastic disciple devours the Word of God voraciously, and returns on a regular basis for more. That is our Jewish heritage and we can be very proud of it.
Verses 37 to 39
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not
worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more
than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after
me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his
life for my sake will find it.
These three verses seem hard-hitting. They are! Jesus required a tough resolve in those involved in His field outreach.
We note how each of the three verses begins with “Whoever,” and outlines a not-negotiable requirement if the disciple is to enter into a truly close relationship with the Lord.
The three demands laid down are:
First: Jesus requires His disciples to love their parents and family no less than totally, but they are to love Him even more. He is here calling them into a very special relationship, which they must be entirely free to enter into. Love for Him will not diminish legitimate God-given love for family.
Secondly: The follower must be ready to share in the fate of Jesus, to be persecuted and to die. This is the first mention (in this Gospel) of crucifixion. Only by coming to terms with this very real possibility of cruel and torturous execution, could the disciple be free to proclaim the message of Jesus.
Thirdly: The disciples Jesus is addressing will spend the rest of their lives exploring and implementing the strange paradox of gaining and losing life. And we will do the same. Different translations may be help us get a little closer to what our Lord is trying to convey.
Lamsa: He who is concerned about his life…………
Knox: He who secures* his own life will lose it; it is the man who
loses his life for my sake that will secure it.
*A footnote in Knox’s translation explains: “Secures his life”, by denying his faith
under persecution, or otherwise making terms with the world at the expense of his
own conscience. The meaning is thus a little clearer for us.
Williams: Anybody who gains his lower life will lose the higher life
and anybody who loses his lower life for my sake will gain the higher life.
Taylor: If you cling to your life you will lose it, but if you give it up
for me, you will save it.
Now a brief word from two great scholars:
“A person who selfishly grasps at personal fulfillment will only see it
slip through his fingers, while the person who surrenders his whole
body for Christ will find his true being in Christ. (John Meier).
Those who lose their “psyche” (traditionally soul, life — best thought
of as one’s “self”) whether by disciplined self-denial or in an act of
martyrdom will find it restored in the age to come, (D. Carson).
Conclusion of Phase One
Just before leaving this section it would pay us to note that our Lord is here reflecting the rabbinic principle:
“The words of the Law are only established in a man who would die
for them.” (B. Ber. 63b)
Jesus is thus preparing His disciples for the time when they will come to understand that He, Himself, is the Law, the Torah, the Divine Word of God. And that He would be present in them and in their mission outreach only if they were willing to die for His sake (Matt. 10: 39). This is deep thinking and taken in only via reflection and meditation.
Phase Two: The Promises to those acting in Faith
Not uncommonly, our Lord confronted His disciples in verses 37 — 39, with seemingly impossible demands at the natural level. As always, in the case of His clipped, succinct conditions, He provides the answer — the solution to the puzzle. It is in the phrase “for My sake”. When that is our intention, in following Him as His disciples, He opens up the mountain range and provides a pass through the most impossible terrain. It’s daunting, but He asks for our faith and trust.
Now, in a descending order He emphasises how, when members of His Household are sent forth on what is really His mission, every person at any level can share in this mission by helping the message-carriers, even in very small acts of kindness.
Verses 40 — 42
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives
me receives the one who sent me.
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.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these
little ones to drink because he is a disciple – amen, I say to
you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
The second set of three verses also has each commencing with “whoever;” the last having an added emphasis in the words: “Amen, I say to you.” The consoling, underlying message is that anyone can qualify — it is a matter of personal choice. There are no exclusions! The love of God can therefore be spread to the utmost end of the earth by those whom He sends. A brief rabbinic comment follows for those who would like to understand better our Lord’s own rabbinic education and training.
The three verses each have a link in our Lord’s teaching with traditional rabbinic thinking, e.g.:
Verse 40. “He who enjoys a meal at which a learned man is present is
as one who enjoys the radiance of the Shekhinah.” (B. Ber. 64a)
Note: “Learned” means steeped in the Divine Word. Jesus claimed to
be the Divine Word, made flesh. “Shekinah” means the illuminating
Presence of God. It may be perceived outwardly or sensed interiorly.
Verse 41. “He who gives a piece of bread to a righteous man, it is as
though he has fulfilled the whole Law.” (Gen. R. 58: 12)
Verse 41. For the Jew, the words spoken by God (i.e. the Torah, the
“Law”) are as though the agents of God and are thus to be treated as
representing the presence of God. So the phrase, “because he is a prophet”
here means, for the sake of the prophecy, and implies a blessing on the
person who respects the message as well as the message carrier. |
(B. Ber. 17a)
Verse 42. In rabbinic teaching, “the little ones” implies young,
inexperienced learners. Our Lord is here promising a blessing upon
the person who does even the least good deed for one of His lowliest
So, what do these three verses teach?
First: Those who receive the Messiah’s representatives, the Apostles, (and then those whom they appoint and authorise,) receive Him, and with Him, His Father. They receive God! The commission of the disciple to spread the Faith is thus a very solemn one — and is addressed equally to us.
Secondly: Those who receive the Apostles because they recognise them to be prophets (the word here means teachers) and righteous men and disciples of the Lords, will receive the same reward as did they, namely eternal life.
Thirdly: Even those who help the disciples down through the ages on their mission, by offering only a cup of cold water (the smallest possible action) as they journey, will be rewarded. All are thus joined, in some way, to the outreach of the Lord, not actually because they merited it but because the Lord chooses to respond in graciousness.
Many of us, upon hearing this short reading of six verses — all spoken by our Lord — sometimes find we don’t really get past the first one. We can be shocked that Jesus of all people, should suggest that we need to love our parents and family a little less so that He can receive His due. But of course He is not saying that! He is using a typical Hebraic method of speech which actually endorses the highest respect and love we have for these loved ones; but we are called to receive His gift of supernatural love which enables us to love Jesus to the highest degree possible without diminishing love for others. This empowers us to move forwards into His service, and carry His love to the farthest ends of the earth: sometimes in places we least expected to end up.
Our reading progressed in a most unusual way: some say, in an artificial construction. It is true the various verses may well represent a collection of sayings from various occasions. But it is equally true, the reading represents a formal rabbinic “lesson plan” for the disciples, easily committed to memory, and providing a treasury of our Lord’s deepest thoughts. In fact, we are left challenged by the question: “Can we really believe each of the points He makes? We have to ask this question — that is part of the purpose of the passage. This Messiah certainly takes some very focussed attention to be sure we understand Him!
Never, in the history of the world, before or since this occasion has anyone conveyed the solemn understanding, as expressed in the centre of this remarkable passage:
“Everyone who gives their own life and ambitions away, for my sake
and for my mission, will receive LIFE at a level they never before
conceived or imagined. And when they go forth from the
Household of God — no matter who these disciples are — whoever
receives them, will receive me as their guest, and even my Father
who sent me. We are unable to give any greater gift! We constantly
await the decisions people make whether to receive our ambassadors
in the Faith!”
Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints!
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 13 ― Year A
If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Only A Cup of Cold Water
Ordinary 13 Year A St. Matthew 10: 37 to 42
1. Jesus invites us to base our lives on a new order of values. At first it seems
2. When, as followers of Jesus, we make this commitment to Him, the most
3. Jesus teaches that whoever receives a prophet or a righteous person,
The Paradox briefly put.
Our Rabbi Yeshua asks us to follow in His footsteps, and promises that if we do so, He will walk in ours, with us, to the farthest ends of the earth.
Let us pray for one another for perseverance to meditate on the teaching of the words of Jesus and apply it as best we can in our own daily living.
Matthew 10: 37 — 42
Ordinary 13 Year A
37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not
38 and whoever does not take up his cross 15 and follow
39 16 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, 17 and whoever
41 18 Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of
16  One who denies Jesus in order to save one’s earthly life will be condemned to everlasting destruction; loss of earthly life for Jesus’ sake will be rewarded by everlasting life in the kingdom.
17 [40-42] All who receive the disciples of Jesus receive him, and God who sent him, and will be rewarded accordingly.
18  A prophet: one who speaks in the name of God; here, the Christian prophets who proclaim the gospel. Righteous man: since righteousness is demanded of all the disciples, it is difficult to take the righteous man of this verse and one of these little ones (⇒ Matthew 10:42) as indicating different groups within the followers of Jesus. Probably all three designations are used here of Christian missionaries as such.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised