“But many who are first will be last, and the last first. And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”
(Mark 10:31-32 ESV)
What a walk that must have been, the way to Jerusalem, the way to Jesus’ death and – it seems the disciples have now realized – to their own dying as well. How difficult watching the road, making the arduous trek, watching the sun rise and set. How difficult watching children play, women carrying their loads, shooing away the dogs nipping at their heels. The thought must have occurred to them: really? Die now? Dying in these long relatively peaceful days? Dying with your respected title and the love of a devoted mass? This is the promised land, the golden hills. Could we really be walking up only to lose it all? It was a sorrowful walk I think. And the question should be asked: if this is the life of men so close to Jesus and so entrenched in his mission, what do we make of our expectations of ease and relative safety? I don’t mean to belittle those hopes but to examine them. Hopes I have, too.
It’s difficult for me to pass by a beautifully manicured soccer field without imagining Audrey and Emmaline running after a soccer ball. Audrey scores several goals and wears one of those cute headbands. Maybe Emmaline’s a keeper like her dad was. But this is the walk his disciples take. And this is the traveling music they hear: Jesus’ book on tape about the death and the resurrection. Even the flogging. Jesus, this is the worst walk EVER.
And what was so frightening and dismaying for the disciples? That wealth could hinder them from the laying hold of the Kingdom of God. That Jesus intended to disabuse them of the notion that somehow worldly wealth is the final word. Wealth is only a passing fad. Wealth is as impotent as your BMI in escaping the suffering of this life, and even more powerless to usher you into the kind of eternal life that Jesus offers. These are heavy truths that when we acknowledge them at all it is with the hope that Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Surely we can’t be expected to live like these primitives, the disciples in their sandals and cloaks, unkempt, walking on foot telling an old-time gospel for old-time people. Surely we’ve moved beyond this kind of fanaticism that throws away the things of life only because they haven’t experienced the delight of finely cooked Kobe or calfskin gloves on a steering wheel, or the peace and quiet of a house by the lake. I mean, who wouldn’t give up those middle eastern lives to be traveling evangelists? But this won’t do at all if we are to take Jesus’ words here seriously. Jesus means to say that only the last are first.
The greater question: why, if we intend to live centered in the Christ – the very person of suffering and dying and sacrifice, why do imagine that we are not to live like Christs ourselves? Why do we assign the role of suffering in Christ to the missionary in Turkey or Germany or Haiti? Why do we assign the role of suffering to the poor in our world? Why do we assign the role of suffering to those unfortunate few that find themselves chosen for some medical catastrophe or the burst of their housing bubble. By what disfigurement of living Christ-centered lives have we excused ourselves from living like the Christ? Who is Jesus without the Cross? Or abandonment or tears or opposition or loss? Who is this Christ that we’ve created for ourselves, who demands less of us than the Jesus of the Bible? This is the question we have to ask ourselves. This is the question the world asks of us. Are you serious about Christ and the Cross?
The Christ and the Cross make us first; first in healing, first in true possessions, first in rest and hope and love. First in all the ways that truly matter and in all the ways our possessions have failed to deliver, Christ has made us whole. He asks that we lay down our possessions, to lay hold of the Cross and gain, by His marvelous and unsearchable mystery, true wealth.