Sunday, January 22, 2006

Puzzling Verses: You Will Receive 100 Houses

For a long time, these verses puzzled me:
"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the good news will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields -- and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30)
Lately I've been studying how the early church valued material goods and spiritual goods. The New Testament consistenly insists that spiritual goods are valued much more highly than material goods. That has always made this one passage sound strange, not just on the grounds of "where are the 100 houses?" but also on the grounds of being so out-of-step with the rest of the message. That was before I figured out where the 100 houses were.

Jesus had been replying to Peter's comment, "We have left everything to follow you!" The hundred brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children are fairly easy to understand, since all believers in Christ are considered as family. But after Jesus' resurrection, did Peter even have a home to call his own? Didn't he go from town to town? Even while Jesus was with him, he often traveled from town to town with no place to lay his head.

Jesus' comments on persecutions were very accurate. The disciples were sometimes chased from town to town, sometimes in hiding, sometimes arrested, sometimes flogged. Some of them were lynched. Many of them, including Peter, were eventually sentenced to death and executed. But as I imagined what it would be like for the apostles, their lives on the line in one town, having no home of their own, pondering where to find a safe place to stay, as I considered all this I finally got it. They did not just have one home of their own, and once that was seized they were out of luck. Wherever they had taken the word of God, they had family after family who would take them in, all over their own land and increasingly all over world. When choosing a safe place to stay, they had a hundred homes, with a hundred fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and children and fields. And with them, persecutions.

Industries which distort the gospel to a get-rich-quick scheme have very much missed what Jesus was saying. Were the 100 new brothers and 100 new sisters that Jesus discussed supposed to be acquired from your parents having 200 more children? No, not at all. Is it possible to get 100 more mothers in this kind of acquisitive sense? No again. When all the other blessings in the list are not possessed by acquisition but enjoyed by fellowship while remaining someone else's, what else but greedy distortion could imagine that the houses or fields would be different?

And, as with many an insight I have, it soon comes to my attention that it's old news to many, discovered many times before. That comes with the territory of studying texts that have been studied for nearly two millenia now. When I was searching the 'net to find if anyone was still misusing this verse, I was glad to find that far more people were speaking up against the abuse than committing it.

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