23 November 2011

Matthew 19:23-30

"Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." (v. 30)


We may have heard these passages hundreds of times, but still we struggle to get past the obvious meaning; the same meaning that the rich young ruler has only just struggled with earlier in the chapter. We can assume that the Gospel-writer Matthew meant for these passages to enlighten each other, and so we happily take the meaning that wealth, possessions or luggage will stop us from entering God's kingdom. But the final verse of chapter 19 (see above) makes a further point, which although explained in chapter 20 through a parable (Matthew 20:1-16), is curious for its placement here. The disciples are told by Jesus that their places in heaven are secure, and in fact, their roles will be very important - to judge the 12 tribes of Israel. The assumption here is that they have been in a lowly position and suffered accordingly, and their reward after the "renewal of all things" (v. 28) will be perhaps the highest roles in heaven aside from that of the Trinity.

The philosopher Nietzsche felt particularly irate about this teaching. Nietzsche felt that Christ's teachings were at odds with his own thoughts about self-motivation. While Nietzsche was very insistent that the weak would only learn to be strong through suffering and hardships, he felt that Jesus' teaching here, and in other parts of the Gospels allowed 'the last' of society to 'take it easy', assured of their salvation, and in fact, their place at the head of the heavenly queue. However, as much as we might admire Nietzsche's self-motivation, we have to note that this isn't what Jesus has said here - he very clearly shows the costs of following him; leaving houses, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers (verse 29). And furthermore, it's very clear that the disciples did not choose this path because of what Jesus had promised them in the afterlife. Peter's question in verse 27 appears to have a desperate tone, as he is suddenly faced with the prospect of nothing, and with nothing to fall back on. But of course, Jesus tells his friends "for God all things are possible" (v. 26).

The obvious meaning of this text is clear - we should not value our things above our journey with God. But the underlying message is even more thorough. We should not value anything above our journey with God. All else can go, or fail or let us down, but God's path remains throughout. If we trust that, then no matter how different our world may look in the future, or may now look compared to what we envisaged, that most steadfast of foundations will always be in place, and our lives, in God's love, can never be lost in the midst of circumstance.

To Ponder

What motivates you? How does it make you feel to know that whatever else changes, Christ will always remain?

If you do suffer hardships, how does Jesus' life help you to be consoled?

Bible notes author

Jon Curtis

Jon Curtis is a Venture FX pioneer minister in Exeter, Devon. He lives with his exceptional wife Beth, and beautiful baby Freddie.