Commentary on Mark 10:28-31
Having overcome their initial shock at what Jesus had to say about the danger of wealth as a serious obstacle to being a follower of Jesus or being a member of the Kingdom, his disciples begin to take stock of their own actual situation. Clearly they cannot even be remotely numbered among the wealthy. Is there something to be said in favour of their relative poverty? “What about us?” asks the ever-irrepressible Peter. “We have left everything and followed you.”
Indeed they had. At the beginning of Mark’s gospel we are told that, on Jesus’ invitation, they had abandoned their whole livelihood and become followers of Jesus. It was a bold step when they really had no idea where it would lead them.
Jesus replies: “There is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life. Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
This sounds like a pie-in-the-sky promise but has it been fulfilled? In fact, it has been – and many times over. By leaving a world where each one scrambles for a piece of the cake and where some get a huge piece and others only get crumbs, the Christian who truly has the spirit of the Gospel enters a community wherever everyone takes care of everyone else and where each one’s needs are taken care of by a sharing of the community’s resources.
This is how by leaving one’s home and family and giving away one’s material goods one enters a new family in which there are far more mothers, brothers, sisters; where one home is replaced by many homes offering their warmth and hospitality, offering a home from home.
This is a reality which, unfortunately, has not been realised among many Christians who live their daily lives in the rat race for acquisition characteristic of our modern capitalist societies and who believe that what they cannot get by their own efforts they will never come to enjoy.
Yet there are examples. One of the most obvious is religious life where the words of Jesus are lived out. The question is why should only religious have this experience of shared love and shared material goods? There are other communities like L’Arche, founded by Jean Vanier – a saint of our time, where the fit and the handicapped share a life together. There are basic Christian communities or some charismatic groups where families live in a communal style sharing all their resources.
But, by and large, we have to a great extent failed to realise that Christianity is not meant to be a religion where individuals, rich and poor, live individualistic lives and carry out certain ‘religious’ acts to “save their own souls” but that it essentially consists of creating a whole new way by which people relate to each other in mutual love and care.
Jesus says that in his world the first will be last and the last first. In fact, he is saying that in his world there is no first and no last. Perhaps this can be illustrated by a story:
A rich man was concerned about his future salvation, would he ‘go to heaven’ or not. In order to motivate him, he asked God to be given a preview of heaven and hell. God agreed. God said that they would first pay a visit to hell. When they got there the man was greatly surprised. He was brought into a sumptuous dining room of a large Chinese restaurant all decorated in red and gold. In the centre was a large round table and on it were the most exotic and delicious dishes one could imagine. Around the table were seated the diners. They were the most miserable-looking group one could imagine, all sitting there motionless and in silence just looking at the beautiful food in front of them. The reason for their glumness was that they had been given chopsticks which were three feet long! There was no way they could get any of the food into their mouths. And they were going to sit there like that for eternity. That was hell!
God then brought the man to heaven. Again he was amazed. Because they were in an identical Chinese banqueting room, with the same kind of table and the same wonderful food. But everybody was in the highest spirits. The sound of laughter rang out everywhere. They were really enjoying themselves and the meal. Was this because they had the normal length of chopsticks? No! They also had three-foot chopsticks but here everyone was reaching out food to people on the opposite side of the table. And that was heaven.
It is a very good illustration of today’s Gospel. When everyone serves, everyone is served. When everyone gives, everyone gets. It is a lesson even we Christians seem to find difficult to learn.