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The person who relinquishes the right to his or her own life (10:38-39) becomes a representative of Jesus (10:40-42; compare 18:5; Mk 9:37; Lk 10:16; Jn 13:20), and one must receive a herald or ambassador in the same way one would receive the one who sent him (for the principle applied to an apostle, compare 2 Cor 5:20-6:2, 11-13; 7:2-4). Some in Jesus' day seem to have advocated receiving the sages as God's representatives, but for Jesus it was those who became like children-the epitome of dependence and powerlessness in antiquity-who were his representatives (Mt 10:42; 11:25; 18:5-6).
As people treat God's prophet, so they treat the God who sent the prophet (1 Sam 8:7). Matthew repeatedly emphasizes that disciples as Jesus' agents are his righteous ones and prophets, even greater than the prophets of old (Mt 5:11-12; 11:9; 13:17). Disciples were also little ones (10:42), the easily oppressed and powerless who could not or would not defend themselves, hence depended solely on God (18:3-6, 10; compare Mk 9:37; 10:14-15).
Receiving Jesus' representatives with a cup of cold water (Mt 10:42; Mk 9:41) probably refers to accepting into one's home missionaries who have abandoned their own homes and security to bring Christ's message (Mt 10:11; see also 25:35-40). A cup of cold water might have been all that a peasant could offer, but hospitality given in faith to a prophet who requested it would be rewarded (compare 1 Kings 17:12-16; 2 Kings 4:8-17).
The following narrative may illustrate the point twice: some would not receive a prophet who came in a prophet's name (Mt 11:7-19; compare 10:41); John the Baptist himself had to continue to receive Jesus, to embrace his identity in the midst of challenges to his faith (11:3-6).