REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS
Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink on the ground that you belong to Christ, I tell you truly he will not lose his reward. And whoever puts a stumbling-block in the path of one of these little ones who believe in me, it is better for him that a great millstone hang about his neck and he be cast into the sea.
The teaching of this passage is simple, unmistakable and salutary.
(i) It declares that any kindness shown, any help given, to the people of Christ will not lose its reward. The reason for helping is that the person in need belongs to Jesus. Every man in need has a claim upon us because he is dear to Christ. Had Jesus still been here in the flesh he would have helped that man in the most practical way and the duty of help has devolved on us. It is to be noted how simple the help is. The gift is a cup of cold water. We are not asked to do great things for others, things beyond our power. We are asked to give the simple things that any man can give.
A missionary tells a lovely story. She had been telling a class of African primary children about giving a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus. She was sitting on the verandah of her house. Into the village square came a company of native bearers. They had heavy packs. They were tired and thirsty, and they sat down to rest. Now they were men of another tribe, and had they asked the ordinary non-Christian native for water they would have been told to go and find it for themselves, because of the barrier between the tribes. But as the men sat wearily there, and as the missionary watched, from the school emerged a little line of tiny African girls. On their heads they had pitchers of water. Shyly and fearfully they approached the tired bearers, knelt and offered their pitchers of water. In surprise the bearers took them and drank and handed them back, and the girls took to their heels and ran to the missionary. “We have given a thirsty man a drink,” they said, “in the name of Jesus.” The little children took the story and the duty literally.
Would that more would do so! It is the simple kindnesses that are needed. As Mahomet said long ago, “Putting a lost man on the right road, giving a thirsty man a drink of water, smiling in your brother’s face–that, too, is charity.”
(ii) But the converse is also true. To help is to win the eternal reward. To cause a weaker brother to stumble is to win the eternal punishment. The passage is deliberately stern. The mill-stone that is mentioned is a great millstone. There were two kinds of mills in Palestine. There was the hand-mill that the women used in the house. And there was the mill whose stone was so great that it took an ass to turn it.
The mill-stone here is literally an ass’ mill-stone. To be cast into the sea with that attached was certainly to have no hope of return. This was in fact a punishment and a means of execution both in Rome and in Palestine. Josephus tells us that when certain Galilaeans had made a successful revolt “they took those of Herod’s party and drowned them in the lake.” Suetonius, the Roman historian, tells us of Augustus that, “Because the tutor and attendants of his son Gaius took advantage of their master’s illness to commit acts of arrogance and greed to his province, he had them thrown into a river with heavy weights about their necks.”
To sin is terrible but to teach another to sin is infinitely worse. O. Henry has a story in which he tells of a little girl whose mother was dead. Her father used to come home from work and sit down and take off his jacket and open his paper and light his pipe and put his feet on the mantelpiece. The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little for she was lonely. He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace. He told her to go out to the street and play. She played on the streets. The inevitable happened–she took to the streets. The years passed on and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven. Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot. I suppose we send her straight to hell?” “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in. Let her in.” And then his eyes grew stern, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets–and send him to hell.” God is not hard on the sinner, but he will be stern to the person who makes it easier for another to sin, and whose conduct, either thoughtless or deliberate, puts a stumbling-block in the path of a weaker brother.
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