As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
So Peter makes another bold statement, this time reminding Jesus that he and his companions have sacrificed much to follow Jesus, just as he asked. And Jesus interrupts him, perhaps concerned that Peter is still living in the world of enough – demonstrating he’s done enough, or worried that he hasn’t, or wondering how much is enough, and all the rest. Jesus cuts this whole train of thought off before it gets too far out of the station.
Then Jesus himself responds. And here we get to sheer promise. Indeed, God will give abundantly – as in 100X abundantly – to all who follow Jesus.
But now that I think about it, is this a promise, or is it a warning?
Two things prompt this question. First, Jesus gets rather specific: no one who has left house, siblings, parents, work and so on…. Usually when we think of what we should give up, it’s vices – you know, eating too much, spending too much money, talking ill of others, gambling, drinking, whatever. But here Jesus seems to ask us to give up what most of us would consider virtues: home, work, and family. Is this not typically what constitutes “the American dream”? Will not politicians on both sides of the aisle make the opposite promise – not asking us to give these things up but promising to make it easier to enjoy our homes, work, and families?
Second, after Jesus promises that those who have sacrificed such things will receive them back many times over, he adds that we will also receive persecutions – persecutions 100x over. My immediate response to such a “promise,” quite frankly, is, “Thank you so much, Jesus. But no, I think I’ll pass.”
So what’s going on? Suddenly these words of Jesus seem far more like warning, or even threat, than promise.
Maybe, however, we’re back to the oddness of Jesus’ kingdom and our very objections to Jesus’ words reveal the distance between the kingdom of God and the one we presently live in. Remember again that the rich man also was asked to give up something close to his heart, something that on the surface was only good. Are we also invited to leave behind all the good things in our life that may lead us to believe that ultimately we don’t need God? When Paul talks about what he has left behind, what he has sacrificed for the gospel, in his letter to the Philippians, he names all those things that made him righteous. He doesn’t do this because they are bad, or wrong. Rather, he names the very best things about himself because none of it measures up to the riches he has received in Christ (3:4-11).
Might we also be asked to recognize that nothing we can accumulate in this world – not riches, not honor, not family, not status – nothing compares with the absolutely unachievable, un-earnable, unmerited – and unconditional! – love of God. It’s not that any of the good things of our life are suddenly bad – just that none of them will finally save us, and if we think they will we’ll miss out on God’s abundant love and life.
Which may, in turn, explain the question of persecutions. This message runs contrary to the cultural messages of achieving security through accumulation and power that bombard us 24/7. What politician would be elected if he or she asked that you give up family, homes, and jobs? We are a country of “family first” and “jobs, jobs, jobs.” And of course these things matter. But not as much, Jesus says, as recognizing that all good things come to us from God, and when we get confused about the source of our goods, security, and future, all is lost.
Prayer: Dear God, help us to keep our eyes on you, never forgetting that you are the source of all good gifts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.