The partiality that gets a pass

I’m currently going through the book of Matthew and paused at this passage;

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt. 10:40-42)

It’s the phrase in vs. 42 that caught my attention “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple.” We might be inclined to think that Jesus is referring to children but the context tells a different story. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out the 12, the ones who would proclaim the apostolic message on which the testimony of Scripture rests (cf. Eph 2:20). So by inference, the application today would be those who have a responsibility for testifying to the risen Lord. Yes, that is all of us but I think the context of this passage bears on those who are charged with preaching and teaching.

So the connotation of “little ones” is not about children but those of little reputation. These are the ones who go about proclaiming the name of Christ and speaking his truth. These disciples may not be well known, or seem to do big things for God but their heart is to be a witness for Christ and to live out his truth in their lives. What is Jesus saying here? That the ones who strive to honor him are the ones to be honored. Don’t neglect the “little ones” because they don’t have a big standing.

It doesn’t take too much observation of our current landscape to know we are impressed with the celebrity. We fill the sanctuary when that big name preacher is invited to speak. We line up at conferences to get that signature on the latest book. We populate our social media feed with pics that show we are in the presence of the well known preacher. We sit at their feet, so to speak and soak up every word. We rave about the fact that we saw them.

But how are we treating the little guy? You know, that pastor or teacher who regularly gives his faithful service in obscurity. The one who shows up day after day, taking calls, calling on others, preparing lessons or sermons for the enrichment of the body… week after week. Do we fall over him the way we do that celebrity figure? Do we go out of our way so that they know who we are and how blessed we were by his message?

Here’s where I believe we can practice a form of partiality that gets a pass, where we give all this adulation to celebrities but treat the little ones with disregard. It’s when we go out of our way to give praise to the big name but shrug at the little name even when that person has equally edified us. In his epistle, James issues some sobering words about this kind of disparate treatment;

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

Now, we might say yes but this is referring to rich and poor. But I can’t help but see the same principle at work when we give royal treatment to celebrity but disregard to the faithful little guy. Isn’t that what we do when we pay so much attention to the big names but pay little attention to the little man? But also note that when we make these kinds of distinctions, God’s word call this ‘evil thoughts.’ Ouch! I’m pretty sure we mean well when we gravitate towards that big name person. Surely, we look up to certain figures because they have provided solid food from God’s word and edified us.  But I think James warns us of a mindset at work that aligns itself with the philosophies of this world where we make distinctions according to what the world finds valuable rather than what God says in valuable.

Jesus made it plain: value is found in the one who is faithful to bear his witness, not the one who comes with fame. In fact, when Paul is addressing the distribution of gifts in 1 Cor. 12, he says it’s actually the ones behind the scenes, the little guys that get barely noticed, are the ones to be honored.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. (1 Cor. 12:21-24)

Sadly, we can have the same lure as the church at Corinth who valued the prominent figures but despised those perceived to be weak according to the successful standards of this world.  We are not unlike them. We can become so impressed with celebrity that we give them preferential treatment in various ways. But I’m convinced by Jesus’ words, and Paul’s words and Jame’s words which is all God’s word that we need to stop giving this kind of partiality a pass.


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