In Mark chapter 10 we encounter a famous story about a rich young ruler who thinks he keeps the commandments but find Jesus’ demand that he leave behind his wealth to follow him burdensome.
Hidden away at the very end of the story are these strange promises from Jesus:
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”Mark 10:28–31
Peter points out that they’ve left everything to follow Jesus, perhaps in despair about the impossibility of being ‘saved’ that has just been discussed, and Jesus cuts right in to say that there is no one who has left things for him who will not receive them back a hundredfold.
Which is, frankly, ludicrous.
I tend to find we skim over these sorts of passages because they seem to cause us a difficulty.
You see, the first bit is straightforward enough, as Sam Allberry puts it in his book 7 Myths About Singleness, ”leaving things to follow Jesus is basic discipleship.” Spot on. If your faith has never cost you anything and you aren’t still wet from the baptismal pool then you at the very least need to ask yourself some serious questions about the extent to which you are following the way of Jesus.
I’ve ‘left’ some serious things, perhaps I’ll tell you the stories one day. My faith has cost me enough that it bites deep. Jesus is worth it.
So, we read that we will have what we lost returned a hundredfold and start to wonder: where are they?
Most of what Jesus mentions us leaving is relational and familial, though he also throws in houses and fields (it’s probably best to think of the fields as ‘financial security’ when we contextualise this). He tells us it will be worth it in the age to come—which isn’t hard to countenance—but also before then too.
Before we get too excited about the wonderful life Jesus is promising us, he chucks in the phrase ‘with persecutions.’ We were hoping to ignore that. This isn’t some sort of middle-classed dream we’re being promised, but there is a promise that among the suffering there is a one hundredfold repayment of that which we lost.
Which is bananas. I moved from Nottingham to Birmingham attempting to follow Jesus’ commands to me as best I could, giving up a beautiful home for a hellhole that wasn’t really habitable and losing my hard-won financial security in the process. Hardly the hardest or biggest thing I’ve given up for Jesus, but still painful.
So where are my hundred homes? Ok, my house now is beautiful, and I enjoy living here, but my financial security is shot. Where are my hundred fields?
Here’s where we have to catch what Jesus is saying. It can sound like he’s saying we will get back what we give like some sort of prosperity gospel situation. No. Rather, we should read it as a challenge.
Why? Well, where are my 100 homes and my 100 fields? They belong to you, dear friends. Or more accurately, they belong to the church. My 100 homes are the homes of those within my church, and my home is one of their hundred. My 100 fields live in the bank accounts of my brothers and sisters in my local church. My mothers and brothers and sisters and children and houses and fields are and belong to the good people I worship with every Sunday.
And perhaps you too dear friends—you can always give me a field by joining my Patreon! I’m not serious, except you definitely can and I would appreciate it, so take that offer as you fancy.
So, we should be hospitable? Yes. But remember that in the Bible hospitality is opening your lives. It doesn’t mean entertaining—with candles and fancy food and whatever else you’d bring out for a special guest—and it means it’s real. Sam Allberry talks about feeling welcome when people are willing to have an argument in front of him. There’s something in that, hospitality is inviting people into the actual nitty-gritty of your own life, not into your curated Instagram feed faux life.
It’s broader than just opening our homes too, it’s opening our lives. It’s structuring a society so that people can be made welcome. It is, to choose a very specific example I’ve written on, providing options for those who forgo the digital world without treating them as pariahs.
I don’t expect everyone to live like me. We’re moderately hospitable, have at least one large group in our house every week, and don’t think a great deal of feeding 30 people for Sunday lunch. The other day someone from our church needed a spare room to stay in for the night with their daughter. They called us, they were over within the hour, and we didn’t host them at all. It’s their house too.
You don’t have to live like that, though the Bible says that Christian leaders have to be visibly hospitable, but we should all be looking for how we can open our lives more to someone else. How can we invite them into our world, or how can we enter theirs?
It would be remiss to not point out that while the English word hospitality means being gentle to guests, the words that we translate as hospitality in the New Testament all mean kindness to strangers. Which, if we’re honest, is a tougher gig. There’s a danger that we bless our friends and those who are like us, especially if we’re in a church that isn’t especially diverse, though it’s a present temptation even if our church reflects our community in its diversity.
We should open our lives to all sorts of different people. Who is in your orbit, your home, your life who is not like you? If you’re married, who are the single people in your lives? If you’re a parent, who are the childless people in your lives? We could make the same comparison for all sorts of axis of difference.
I find this much more challenging, it’s more comfortable to be with people like us: we know what they need, we know how to give it, the likelihood of putting our foot in it somehow is much reduced—but the church is called to so much more.
So, let’s challenge ourselves. My home, my finances, my relationships, belong to others within the church to provide that which they have sacrificed for Jesus. And so, dear friends, do yours.
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