Could it be that Simple?
Gospel Reading: Matthew 10:37-42
For Sunday, June 26 , 2011: Year A – Ordinary 13
Let us begin with a thought experiment. Suppose you are walking down the street of a large American urban center. You are, perhaps, going to dinner or the theatre or shopping or maybe you are lost and decided it would be easier to park you car get out and find someone to ask for directions.
At that moment, you are approached by someone who—let us use the phrase—“looks like a homeless person.”
“Spare a Dollar?”
This “homeless person”—and let’s be clear, you do not know the status of this person with regard to home or anything else he just “looks like a homeless person” what ever that might mean to you—this “homeless person” approaches you and says, “Excuse me, could you spare a dollar?”
Maybe he says, could you spare a dollar for the bus; or I need a dollar to buy a hamburger; or I just need one more dollar to get a bed in the shelter; or maybe they just say could you spare a dollar, giving no explanation.
The question is simple do you give him a dollar? You don’t know what he will use it for. It might be drugs or alcohol. Can you get a hamburger for a dollar? Are you really helping him? There are larger issues at stake here.
“And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones—will not lose their reward.”
A cup of cold water?
I love it. Could it be that simple? I think it could. The ethics of the Kingdom of God, concise, elegant, pure, freeing—and practical. It addresses our situation on the street. But it also has larger implications. It answers the great question “how then shall I live?” You should be nice.
If it is embraced, this simple little instruction, takes one out of the realm of moral law, intellectual, ethical philosophizing and puts one on the street—with another person.
It does not start at the top with a grand notion of how the Kingdom of God should restructure society, it simply says, in the most mundane of situations—give a cold cup of water. Offer the most basic of kindness to a stranger.
Water. A cold cup of water.
Jesus is not even talking about a situation where someone dying of thirst. It is so casual. “Hey would you like a drink of water?” It tells us to treat a stranger the way we would treat someone who is a guest in our home—can I get you something to drink. It is a way of seeing the world—seeing all people. It is about seeing the other as one of your own. It is about basic human kindness—it is just being nice.
The ethics of the Kingdom of God surely can have implications for global warming or may be able to address poverty and violence—but first it is concerned with being nice to people.
First a drink of water then you can chat a little bit, ask the other about their family, show them pictures of your kid. Tell them a funny story about your cat—then you can move on too how going to MacDonald’s is ruining the rain forest.
This little verse is also amazing in its freedom. It tells us straight out. Give the man the dollar. “Well what about . . . .” Yeah, forget that. For me to reason out what the appropriate uses are for that dollar and to assess this strangers ability to act rightly—to judge what is best not only for him, but then to extend that to deciding its effects on society as a whole, what makes the world a better place—well, that puts me in charge of the whole world doesn’t it? It makes me “God.”
But that beautiful little cup of cold water, dethrones me, knocks me right out of heaven and back down on the sidewalk.
“Oh, you want a dollar? Here. Hey, I’m lost can you tell me where Shinder’s is?”
I love it.
I am just not sure that, that is what this verse is about.
The Hardest Question
Could it be that simple?