A hundredfold with persecutions

Proper 23B

 Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Psalm 90:1-8, 12

Hebrews 3:1-6

Mark 10:17-31

We surely take a beating in these readings about wealth. If you had any question about the corrupting power of money before you read these lessons, you should be disabused of it by now. Of course, that is not a very helpful message to be drawn from these lessons. Maybe Saint Anthony can sell all he has and move to the desert, but even he left behind a sister without much to sustain her. We are all pretty deeply involved in the money economy.

The man who approaches Jesus calls him “Good teacher” in the sense of teacher of the good. Clearly this man is looking for a teacher to whom he can attach himself to learn how to live. It would have been the expectation of the time that Jesus, as a teacher, would welcome him (and his money) into his school. Mark has Jesus deny, not the part about teacher, but just about “good”. Only God teaches the good. The man wants to inherit the life of the ages.

Jesus looks at him and loves him. He sees good in him. Jesus tells him the commandments — the approved way of being just. The replies that he has kept all these things from his youth. Only one thing is missing. Here, we would expect Jesus, if he were a standard Greco-Roman teacher, to suggest that the student come pay tuition at his school and learn from him, which is probably what the man was looking for. Instead, Jesus tells him to sell what he has, and give it to the beggars, who can give him exactly nothing in return. Jesus invites the man to step out of the social order that has given him definition up to this point: money, commandment, good. He essentially invites him to be a cynic, wandering about with Jesus, begging the day’s meal, living on God’s grace.

Jesus sends out the Twelve nearly as cynics (they go 2 by 2, rather than alone, and can carry no wallet for the next day’s meal). They are to preach the empire of God out here on the fringes, just like the cynics proclaimed that the empire was with them. The man is crestfallen and leaves.

The disciples and Jesus engage in an exchange about how difficult it is to enter the empire (note that it is not about the life of the ages). Who can enter? Then Peter says, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus replies that the disciples will receive a hundredfold everything they have left (with the exception of fathers, of which they receive only one), in this age, with persecutions. Stepping out of the usual family and social identity, they receive a new identity in Mark’s community, a hundred times stronger, with persecutions. This new society, this new Empire won’t be easy. They have to put up with each other, and with the chances of persecution they face, but it is far richer than the empire they have left behind. And in the age to come, the life of the ages. Entry into the life of the age to come is achieved through the community of the new empire, as heirs of the one father.

In Secret Mark, just after Mark 10:34, Jesus enters Bethany and raises a woman’s brother from death. When the man arises from death, he looks at Jesus and loves him. Jesus spends six days with him and on the sixth day, enters the nuptial chamber and spends the night with the man dressed only in a linen cloth. Is this the same man? Is the death and resurrection a story of his conversion? The same young man shows up in the Garden of Gethsemane, dressed in his linen cloth, and again at the tomb, dressed in a white robe. He then points the women back to Galilee, where Jesus will be found in the life of the community.

Learning to be identified by the economy of the household of God is not easy for us (in fact, impossible, though in God’s presence, all things are possible), and requires a death and resurrection. But it is in the household of God that we find the life of the ages, among these hundreds of brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, in this age, with persecutions.

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