Healing vs. breaking, welcome vs. enslavement, freedom vs. sin, life vs. death––all matters that consume the Apostle Paul and are addressed simply by Jesus who tells us to make sure the thirsty get some water. Today, clean and available water is jeopardized in many places. We see it being purchased by private businesses and made expensive. We watch governments making changes that pollute municipal water (Flint, Michigan) or threaten to do so (Standing Rock). We also see peace workers digging wells to save women from hours of hauling heavy buckets, engineers figuring out how to corral oil spills, and advocates for environmental sensibility writing and speaking on behalf of plants and animals.
Christians are commanded to make water available for all the “little ones” who might either be new disciples or simply people without the means to insist on clean and affordable water.
The water that is life is baptismal water as well as good drinking water. In his own baptism, Jesus blessed all the waters of Earth.
Just prior to today’s Gospel reading in Matthew, Jesus tells his followers that they are to love him more than they love their own families, more than they love their own lives. These are harsh warnings that are immediately countered by today’s reading on the comfort of welcome into the community for all people.
Whoever extends hospitality to Jesus' disciples also welcomes Jesus and the One who sent him. Jewish law considered that one's agent is like oneself. Jesus goes beyond this: to welcome a disciple is to welcome both him and the Father. Then verse 42: one who, “in the name of a disciple” (and through the disciple, of God), helps someone on the fringe of society (or the church) even in a simple, kindly way will be rewarded in heaven. “Little ones” are disciples of Jesus, whom he calls “children” or “infants” (11:25). The Gospel of Matthew displays a special solicitude toward Jesus' “little ones,” those we would call catechumens. – Frank C. Senn
Speaking to a devastated people who yearned for the return of exiles and the worship vessels from the Temple that had been carted away, the prophet assures that peace will come.
[The prophet Jeremiah’s words anticipate] Jesus' words to his disciples that he has not come to bring peace. . . [raising] the question of what constitutes true prophecy. The exact historical setting early in King Zedekiah's reign (594 B.C.) was a moment of crisis for Judah. Hananiah had prophesied that the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar would be broken in two years and the vessels returned to the Temple, breaking Jeremiah's yoke for emphasis. Hauling away vessels from the temple was the Babylonians' way of showing the powerlessness of Judah's God. Jeremiah had used the symbol of an iron yoke to demonstrate that the Babylonian exile would continue. – Frank C. Senn
[Paul admonishes us] to lead a life free from sin. . . That personified active force that came into human history through Adam has reigned over human beings until Jesus' death and resurrection and seeks to continue to reign even in those who are justified by faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Because sin is an enemy that refuses to be defeated, Christians need to erect a study defense against its onslaught. There sedeq (uprightness) is closely linked to observance of the law, whereas for Paul it assumes all the connotations of the new Christian life.
Because Christians can still be tempted and can succumb to the “passions” of their “bodies,” care must be taken to avoid using any of our faculties and functions (“members,” v 13) to advance the cause of evil. In verse 15 Paul asks again the rhetorical question he posed in verse 1: are we now free to behave as we like, no longer being subject to the Law? Again, he answers no!
In verses 16–19, he uses the analogy of slavery to explain the two ways of sin and righteousness. You cannot serve two masters (v 16). If sin is your master, you will face spiritual (as well as physical) death; if you serve God, your end is oneness with him (“righteousness”). Through baptism the believer has ceased to be enslaved to sin; the baptized have been set free. God's gift is pro gratia, without expectation of repayment. – Frank C. Senn
Frank C. Senn, an ELCA pastor who served Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois, from 1990-2013, has also taught liturgy courses at a number of seminaries and divinity schools and published thirteen books mostly on the history of the liturgy.
Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 75-89.