A little pastoral note: Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and a day of fast and abstinence. Fasting means one main meal and 2 snacks, health permitting. It puts us in solidarity with Jesus and his Forty Day fast in the desert as well as our brothers and sisters who are experiencing famine in the Third World. Abstinence is from meat.
Today’s gospel passage is Mk 10:28-31: ‘What about us?’ Peter asked Jesus. ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first’.
What’s in it for me?’ How often do we ask ourselves this question? In so many things we do there is an element of self-interest. We may cloak it, but the question lurks in the background. In effect this is what Peter is saying to the Lord when he states: ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you’ (v. 28). It is reassuringly human that the one who was to be the rock upon which the Church was built should display such a sentiment. It is even more reassuring that the Lord doesn’t rebuke him, but affirms that many benefits and blessings will be conferred upon his followers, both in this age and in the age to come. It is sobering too that contained within the litany of blessings there is also the warning of persecution.
Jesus knew that Peter’s question echoed the complex desires of the heart. In many ways Peter’s words are both question and complaint. The idea that dedication, sacrifice and labour can go unrewarded is abhorrent. It offends our sense of natural justice. Still, we may say with varying degrees of humility that in our service of others we want nothing for ourselves. We protest that what we do is done out of love. But the truth is that even when this is the case our service brings its own reward. [The principle of St Francis: It is in giving that we receive.]
We should not be embarrassed by the idea of reward. It is a godly principle and God is eager to shower his blessings upon all those who serve him. He is lavish and generous beyond our wildest dreams. To understand this we’ve got to get into the logic of the kingdom. God’s reasoning is so completely different from our own — for example, in God’s kingdom the first will be last and the last first (v. 31). In God’s kingdom the humble are exalted and the exalted humbled. In God’s kingdom the rich become poor and the poor rich. If God gives us so many gifts in this world, what treasure will be ours in the age to come! Rest assured that God wants to reward and bless us. If we are suffering for God’s sake and we find ourselves giving way to bitterness or complaint, we can take to heart the words of Thomas ‘a Kempis: [author of the classic Imitation of Christ] ‘With God it is impossible that anything, however small, that is suffered for God’s sake, should fail to meet with its reward.’ (Bible Alive)