Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones… None of these will lose their reward.
The great priest and spiritual writer, Henry Nouwen, tells of a time when he was on his way to a monastery to attend a much needed retreat. This retreat was to be very meditative and prayerful, for the monks in that place observed strict vows of silence.a
Because of miserable weather, Nouwen was very late arriving at the monastery. He rang the bell well after bedtime, and was met at the door by one of the brothers who greeted Nouwen, took his wet coat, and brought him to the kitchen where he made him a cup of hot tea.
They chatted into the late night hours and Nouwen finally began to relax and was beginning to feel prepared for the retreat.
Nouwen was curious, however, because he knew that this monk was bound by the order’s rule to observe silence, so he finally asked. Why are you willing to sit and talk with me for so long?
The monk replied, Of all the rules of the Christian faith and all the rules of my order, NONE is higher than the rule of hospitality. If every Christian truly believed and practiced that hierarchy of rules, I am positively certain that the world we live in would be a very different place.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the role and purpose of the church, and I become more convinced every day that even more than the traditions we follow, and even more than the doctrines we believe in, the greatest gift the church has to offer is the gift of compassionate community! From the very beginning, it was God’s vision and hope for humanity that we should find God in each other.
I’m reminded of the question once posed to the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead: What was the earliest sign of civilization in any culture?
Her answer was incredibly insightful, and it surprised her questioner.
She said that the earliest sign of civilization was a healed femur.
Yes, the large leg bone below the knee. She went on to explain that no healed femurs have been found where the law of survival of the fittest reigned.
A healed femur shows that someone cared. Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. The evidence of compassion,she said, is the first sign of civilization.
And Jesus says, Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…
EVEN a cup of cold water – That word even seems to imply that no gift is too small when it comes to compassion. Sometimes I get the feeling that a lot of Christians think that to show real compassion, they have to book tickets on the next flight to Calcutta, or stage a telethon for a homeless shelter….
But Jesus says, EVEN a cup of cold water.
I know that my own life has been influenced and shaped more by a few acts of random and reckless love thrown my way by family and friends, parishioners and school teachers than it ever has by college degrees, ordinations or other crowning successes.
When I was in fifth grade in a Catholic Elementary School, my very favorite teacher, who happened to be a nun, just couldn’t take my homework delinquencies any more, so she sent me to the principal’s office.
Now you need to understand that, to a fifth grader, going to Sister Vincent’s office felt like being sent to the guillotine. So, I thought about it out in the hall for a moment, and then I walked home instead. I just couldn’t face it.
I had been home for about an hour, when my Dad came home. He wasn’t supposed to be at home, he was supposed to be at work, and this whole mess was supposed to go away somehow.
He asked if I was sick, and just then, the phone rang.
Saved by the bell, I thought. . . except it was Sister Vincent on the other end.
My dad drove me back to school and walked me straight into the principal’s office. I knew what this meant. . . my head would be on a platter just like that John the Baptist guy.
Instead, there was Sister Vincent, with arms wide open, and eyes filled with tears. She looked so happy to see me, and she hugged me, and she said, Do you know how worried I was? I’m so glad to see you. And she spoke with my Dad for a bit in the inner sanctum of her office, and he left, and I never remember being punished.
And guess what? Sister Vincent had me over to the convent after school for a few days. Oh, not for dinner, but so she could personally supervise my homework makeup! Let me tell you, that was one cool cup of water!
She could have played the hard line. She could have acted as tough as she looked, but she didn’t, and because of that single moment of kindness I knew, for the first time, that I could be loved by someone outside my own family. It was for me a life-changing moment.
It may seem small, but remember Jesus’ words:
EVEN a cold cup of water.
I think it’s true; most people will remember how you made them feel, more than they will remember the trophies on your mantle or the letters after your name. It doesn’t take much, and it is so very pleasing to God.
What’s truly amazing about this cup of cold water ministry, that Jesus speaks of in our Gospel, is that everyone can begin and execute it with proficiency today, and with no training, no internship, and best of all, no student loans!
You’ll never have to worry about an excess of compassion. You’ll never have to worry that you’re overdoing it. As someone once said, Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like nobody’s watching.
Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. . . None of these will lose their reward.
Those simple acts of love and compassion, whether by word or by deed, will be their own reward.
Let us pray…
Gracious God, help us to understand that misery comes in many forms, and need is never very far away. Help us to see it when it exists in those closest to us: in those with whom we work, in those with whom we live, in the person just down the hall and in the person just down the street.
Help us to see that compassion comes sometimes in packages with small ribbons and plain paper wrapping…help us to make hospitality our first rule of life.
Help us to believe that EVEN a cup of cold water can really make a difference. Amen.