1.24 Synoptics -- Houses, Children and Lands
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 that are first will be last, and the last first" (Mk 10:29-31).
This is the sort of text heard by volunteers for the mission field: sacrifices now bring blessings later, in this life and eternity. Only Mark includes the downside – "with persecutions."
This group of sayings can be paired with the following set: Mat 10:21-22, Mat 10:34-39, Mk 13:12-13, Lk 12:51-53, Lk 14:25-26. All of these passages speak of persecution by relatives for the Name of Christ, a tearing apart of family relationships. One example:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -- a mans enemies will be the members of his own household" (Mat 10:34-36).
One has to wonder --what is there about following Jesus that inspires such rage from family members? We get a clue from the next verses in Matthew:
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mat 10:37-39).
We are not concerned with missionaries here. Rather, Jesus is reflecting on his experience with his own family (see 1.16 My Mother and My Brothers above). He had to leave them, walk away from Nazareth and from his responsibility as the provider for his mother, in order to fulfill his calling. His leaving was to "take up his cross." He broke the family relationship, they attempted to restore it by bringing him back into the fold of their expectations and limitations...and he disowned them!
The same strong dynamics that stirred and divided the early church on the status of the Gentiles are still active today. The modern day ethnic-based church is not true to the Gospel, anymore than a Gentiles-only church or Jews-only Messianic synagogue would have embodied the Gospel in the 1st Century. This kind of a church is a church whose wall of separation is still standing -- perhaps not a wall of Jew vs Gentile, but maybe of white vs black, of Hispanic vs white, or any other division that is common in the local community. Sometimes, instead of doing the hard work of self-adjustment to undermine the wall of separation, ethnic churches live a sheltered life comfortably on one side of the wall. They even help shore it up. They convert the Gospel's teachings into cultural forms that are convenient to their constituents. At one time, the white churches of American preached a message of social order combined with charity to the deserving poor. The black churches held to a message of social justice and God's passionate concern for the underdog. Both effectively maintained the wall of separation, just as Peter was happy to allow Gentiles in his church, so long as they were neat and clean, and he didn't have to eat with them.
But leaving one's natural family is only half the teaching. The other half is receiving new homes and family. This is the fellowship of the dispossessed, a community of those in exile from their heritages. This is the circle gathered around Jesus whom he indicated when he said "Here are my mother and my brothers" (Mat 12:49). As David, when he was hiding from Saul, gathered around himself all the troublemakers and rejects (1 Sam 22:2), so Jesus did the same during his life. This became the nucleus of the church. And its nature is still the same. It is composed of those who are refugees from the world system, who have committed themselves to "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Mat 6:33). And the reason for the persecution they suffer is not merely that they thereby disavow loyalty to all the world's petty political allegiances, but that they form alliances with other outcasts -- people of other races, castes and nationalities who are on the other side of the wall. The agenda of the party or the state is to build walls and dominate other groups. But the agenda of Jesus is to undermine walls and expand the circle around him. These two purposes must collide, and the full weight of the state or party or ethnic community will be used against the church. Ergo -- "with persecutions."
Gentiles are not mentioned in any of this teaching, but they are the beneficiaries of it. Jesus was prophesying that any Jews kicked out of the synagogue for faith in him would be welcomed into a new family composed of renegade Gentiles, who themselves were former devotees of Greek and Roman deities and mystery cults. If their natural families disinherited them, they would receive a new inheritance among the redeemed. "Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" -- both in order of time and of pre-eminence. The Gentiles were last in time in the timechart of salvation, they were last to be included in God's plan. Henceforth, they will take precedence in the new age. The poor and uneducated were lowest in the pecking order of the Temple hierarchy, but from now on they are welcome in Jesus' circle, and the Holy Spirit will be poured out indiscriminately on rich and poor.