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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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Tony's Reflection 80
A red-hot firebrand, full of passion and power. A typical revolutionary?
Nicholas Copernicus could hardly have been further away from that stereotype. This quiet church law academic and amateur astronomer revolutionised the way we look at ourselves and the world, in 1543. He published the unthinkable idea that the earth orbited the sun.
Copernicus himself escaped the wrath of the Catholic Church, as he died almost as soon as his work was released. Some scientists who followed him, though, were threatened with torture, or even burned at the stake, by the Inquisition.
Copernicus quite literally turned the universe of his day upside down and inside out. The revolution was too hot to handle, for many in his day.
In today’s episode from
, Jesus reverses the wisdom of his world. When his kingdom comes crashing into this world and into our lives, “Many who are first will be last and the last first.” (Verse 31.) The shockwaves of this revolution are still felt, even now.
Little children came last in the pecking order. They can’t offer anything in return to those who look after them. All they bring is open-handed trust and dependence. People with nothing to bring get overlooked. Yet it’s people like this, so often “last” in the world’s eyes, who find the wonders of God’s kingdom.
That had been a lesson Peter learnt, shamefaced, after he had sent the little children packing.
“The wonders of God’s kingdom…” His mind went back to when Jesus had spent whole days at a time, from dawn until dusk, explaining those “wonders”. Peter had grown up looking forward to “God’s special one”, who would make those “wonders” come true. Of course, it would only be those right living, upright, deeply religious people who would ever get to experience these delights. Or would it? The door had just been flung wide open to those who are like little children, rather than great paragons of piety. The last could get in first.
It’s all about becoming like a little child? This was hot to handle.
The last parent seen, the last child prayed for, the crowd disperses and Jesus is going back to rest for the evening. Except the day is not quite finished… An even bigger shock awaited the Twelve. They were still adjusting to the last being first. They were about to see one of the first coming in last.
Peter hears the pounding feet and breathless panting of someone not used to running. The expensive robe is scraping through the dust and dirt, but this young man doesn’t care. He must reach Jesus before it is too late. He crashes to his knees before Jesus and, hardly able to find the breath to speak, blurts out his desperate request:
“Good teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”
This young man is smartly dressed, clearly well off. All his usual dignity and poise is gone, as he kneels in the gravel, looking desperately to Jesus.
“Keep the commandments,” says Jesus.
The young man has done his best to keep those ever since he was little. He presses his case to Jesus.
Peter is impressed. This young man has it all. Clearly someone God is pleased with. Serious about Jesus. Deadly earnest about finding the “eternal life” that God’s special representative here on earth had come to bring. He is rich, too - an obvious sign that God approves him and his lifestyle.
Peter likes the man straightaway. Jesus’ heart went out to him in an instant.
“That’s great you’ve kept the commandments. Sell everything you’ve got and follow me,” says Jesus.
Peter’s mind went back to when he had heard those wonderful words “follow me”. He hadn’t hesitated. He had left his fishing business far behind. Dropped it all for Jesus.
The young man has risen to his feet. Where there had been eager expectation of Jesus and anticipation of approval, there is now just crushing disappointment. He can’t bear to look Jesus in the eye. His gaze is fixed on the ground, his head bowed in sadness. This price is too high. He couldn’t possibly give it all up and leave it all behind. Crestfallen, he droops and turns slowly away…
This man has it all. Wealth, success. Everything anyone could wish for. He was at the top of the pile. Yet now, he trudges away empty. The first has become last.
The Twelve are in shock.
Jesus breaks the silence.
“Who said it was easy, to get into God’s kingdom?”
That was what every Jew wanted - to “get into God’s kingdom.” The Twelve had seen that Kingdom come crashing into their lives, as they had followed Jesus. The sheer exuberance and joy of living life close to God. Knowing his power changing them, to make them more like the Jesus they had come to love so much. The confidence that when this life would finish, another better life would be theirs. One unspoilt by darkness and suffering.
Who can escape from a life without God and find this treasure beyond price? Only the person who will put everything else aside to obey Jesus. A tall order? Yes, indeed. It needs a revolution inside our hearts. But, with God’s help, that revolution and the new life that comes with it is within reach for every single one of us.