O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord, the most mighty God, has spoken
and called the world from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth;
our God comes and will not keep silence.
Consuming fire goes out before him
and a mighty tempest stirs about him.
He calls the heaven above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
‘Gather to me my faithful,
who have sealed my covenant with sacrifice.’
Let the heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Peter began to say to Jesus, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
In yesterday’s reading we saw the disappointment of the rich man who could not set God before worldly wealth, the rich man who turned away from Jesus’ call to follow him because possessions were placed before the call to love and serve. Today’s reading begins with Peter saying: Look, we have left everything and followed you. Yesterday’s reading and the words we hear today are often grouped together as one, and yet we are being invited to consider them separately. We are being invited to reflect further and deeper into our response to God’s call in our own lives.
The disciples have stood by and watched a wealthy man reject Jesus’ call. The disciples, who had indeed left everything to answer that same call, must have been both incredulous and sad at seeing someone reject that which they valued so highly. But … where would we place ourselves in this scenario?
Jesus wants us to understand that we are all wealthy in the eyes of God, because we have been made in his image. Some of us may have more worldly possessions than others, but that does not equate to the wealth we have been ascribed by God, which is a wealth beyond measure. Even if we live in what the world would describe as ‘abject poverty’, we still have the gift of life, we are still existing in the image and likeness of God. We still have worth. Similarly, if we have been blessed with worldly gifts and talents, we are also called to remember our kinship with those who are hungry and homeless, dispossessed and in despair.
This is the challenge with which many of us struggle. No matter how blessed we may be, we want more. Our desire for more is often so strong that it stands as a seemingly insurmountable barrier between ourselves, those less materially fortunate, and God!
Today’s reading opens with Peter’s statement of the blindingly obvious: we have left everything and followed you, to which Jesus responds with his famous words: many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Words that are not about our right to jump the queue, but words that are meant to constantly remind us of the call to recognize the wealth God has poured upon us, and to share that wealth with those we know to be less fortunate.
On one level, Peter’s words can be viewed as being smug and self-congratulatory. The rich man was presented with the challenge he and the other disciples had met. As the rich man went away grieving, the disciples must have felt a twinge of self-satisfaction that they had not fallen at that hurdle. However, even they would come to struggle with putting themselves at the back of the queue. There would be many moments in the ensuing gospel narrative that would reveal their human weakness, their inability to truly understand Jesus’ mission, and the mission he had come to lay on their shoulders.
Jesus’ words: many who are first will be last, and the last will be first, make up one of those gobbets from scripture that can be rolled out as a trump card when things are not quite going our way. But, that is not their purpose. Jesus leaves these words with us as a constant admonition not to be self-righteous. Jesus is calling us all into a life of humility, service and worldly poverty. Humility, service and poverty which is centred on God, and God alone. These powerful words should ever remind us, as we hesitate to help others, that if we wish to be among those welcomed into God’s eternal kingdom, there is work to be done first. The work that is our joyful response to God’s call in our lives … even when it isn’t that convenient!
Prayers of intercession
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
Lord, may we follow you in simplicity and humility and so enter into life. Bless all who are seeking to consecrate their lives to you. We pray for any who have lost their faith or their way in life, and for those who find you in their service of others.
Have mercy on those who are afraid to give and afraid to share. We pray for all who are suffering through the greed and avarice of others, and for those who experience injustice or who are denied basic human rights. Inspire the rulers of wealthy nations to have compassion on those that are poor, and grant peace to this troubled and divided world.
We give thanks for those who have sacrificed for us, who have enriched our lives by their goodness and who have been gracious and generous to us. Teach us also to be generous and willing to give. Bless us, our families and friends with the desire to truly follow you.
Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles; and bring them the joy of your salvation.
We give thanks for all who have departed this life and entered into glory, triumphing over darkness and evil.
We pray in the name of Christ who has made us, with them, inheritors of eternal life.
Prayer for the week
Grant us, O Lord,
the faith that rests not on signs and wonders
but on your love and faithfulness;
that obedient to your word
and trusting in your promises,
we may know your peace and healing power,
both in our hearts and in our homes;
for the honour of your holy name.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
May the grace of Christ our Saviour,
and the Father’s boundless love,
with the Holy Spirit’s favour,
rest upon us from above.
Thus may we abide in union
with each other and the Lord,
and possess, in sweet communion,
joys which earth cannot afford.
John Newton (1725–1807)
based on 2 Corinthians 13.14