37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
This word ‘welcome’ represents much more than a smile at the door should they show up at church. It means to extend hospitality, to take someone under your protection.
It is used especially with respect to travelers. It is dangerous business being in a place where you are a stranger. Ties of family and kinship are the guarantees of safety. If a member of your clan hurts me, my family will avenge. They will come hurt a member of your clan.
It’s why there are enforcers on ice hockey teams. You come after our star player and there will be consequences beyond two minutes in the box. It keeps the game relatively even. And a big hurt will be remembered even from one season to the next. Ask any veteran Red Wings fan about the war with the Colorado Avalanche over the cheap shot that broke Kris Draper’s jaw.
It’s hard for the fans when former enemies become members of your team, but once they join, they come under the team’s protection.
To ‘welcome’ is to extend the circle of your clan’s protection around a vulnerable person. And in an honor-based society, the payoff for the one who extends such hospitality is that the recipient will sing your praises wherever he goes. To show hospitality increases your own honor and standing in the community.
But what is to be gained by showing hospitality to a child? It doesn’t really make sense in the quid pro quo world.
Unless the child belongs to someone important.
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I would prefer to stop right there and let you recognize the crucial conclusion. But, sometimes we need it spelled out for us: the child belongs to someone important. The child, the weak, the vulnerable, those on the bottom of the social hierarchy, those without power or influence – these are members of Jesus’ household. To receive even the least, is to receive Jesus. To fail to extend your care and protection for the lowliest slave in the king’s household is to betray your king.
We can argue about our relative importance in the pecking order all we want – as the disciples were doing – but the least member of the royal house is to be honored above us all.