Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for my sake and for the gospel’s sake who will not receive now in this age a hundredfold houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life.
Mark 10: 29-30
In my early years of religious life, it would often be said, at the time of a celebration, a special meal, or an enjoyable outing, that this particular gratification was “part of the hundredfold.” The irony that constituted the humor in this remark was the realization that “the hundredfold” of which Jesus speaks is not just more of the same kind of wealth that precedes “leaving all” for him, but, rather, that the joy of what is given in the life of total abandonment to Jesus is of a categorically different order from the gratification of possessions and status. For the one who leaves house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land to give him or herself over to Jesus is brought into a relationship to others and the world of a very different kind.
I lived for many years on the north shore of Boston and, whenever I could, I would spend time at the seashore. One of my favorite places to sit by the water was Marblehead Neck, a beautiful peninsula that extended out into the Atlantic which was lined with the exclusive estates of the wealthy and privileged. As I rode out to the point at the end of the peninsula, I would often exercise my fantasies of owning and living in one of those estates. One morning, as I made my way to the park at the tip of peninsula, I realized that by not owning any one of them, I was able, albeit at a distance, to enjoy all of them. In an admittedly limited way, the beauty of the entire area was a gift to me.
In today’s gospel, Jesus describes what happens when we possess no one or nothing. When we abandon our demands that certain persons and goods are ours alone, we experience, as did St. Francis, that everyone and everything is brother and sister and mother to us. Because we lay no claim or make no demand of the world, we can receive everything and relate to all as that which is not owed but rather given to us.
It is interesting that the list of relationships and possessions both that one leaves and that one receives after letting go are the same but for one entity. “Father” does not appear in the list of the hundredfold. Scripture scholars John Donohue and Daniel Harrington comment on this as follows:
Although the omission may simply be due to a scribal error, one can argue that in the new family of Jesus constituted by those who seek to do God’s will (Mark 3: 31-35) there is no need or place for any father apart from God. . . . The omission of “fathers” in Mark’s list of rewards is evidence for many scholars that Mark’s house churches also challenged the dominant patriarchal model of family life. (The Gospel of Mark, pp. 306, 308)
One who has left all for Jesus’ sake finds herself in relationship in a totally different and transformed way. It is not a mode of possession, dominance, hierarchy, patriarchy, mutual gratification or even limited duty and responsibility. It is rather relationship which is the fruit of spirit and is experienced as gift. It is a love for all and everyone as manifestations of God’s, the one Father’s, love and glory.
A Community based on the love and mission of Jesus is not an intensification of communities of “flesh and blood.” For some years following the renewal of Vatican Council II, religious communities, perceiving accurately the lack of adequate relationship in community life, attempted various “experiments” in community living. There were communities of “friends” or “affinity”; there were communities based on psychological and sensitivity practices; there were closed communities based on theological or psychological elitism. Each of these, and many other forms, of experiments in community ultimately failed. The unfortunate conclusion that many drew from this was that the “ideal” of community was hopelessly flawed and was more an impediment than an aid to the mission of service to others. Perhaps, the mistake was the failure of the irony that lay at the bottom of the joke from our early years. We thought that the community of disciples was meant to be an intensification of relationships formed by family, efficiency, affective need, mutual gratification, or domination and patriarchy. On the contrary, however, the new relationships of which Jesus speaks and that constitute community in his spirit are dependent, in the first instance, on the “leaving behind” of all but him. The hundredfold is given to those who are prepared to receive it, by being empty enough of every possession, exterior and interior, that stands in the way of receiving it.
Chapter 10, verses 17-31 of Mark’s gospel is a lesson in dispossession. The call to discipleship of Jesus is a call to leave behind everyone and everything. The Rich Young Man is unable to do this and so goes away sad from Jesus. The metaphor is clear. To follow Jesus requires the willingness to continually leave behind all that is less than him. Jesus then says that the great impediment to discipleship is wealth. As each of us well knows, we need not have great wealth to experience this obstacle. Every moment of life and experience confronts us with the experience of holding on or letting go. In our youth we are constantly presented with the choice of putting the welfare and needs of the other before that of ourselves. As we grow older, we must choose the attitude with which we shall face our physical and mental diminishment. Are our losses opportunities for growing in communion with the way and will of God, or are they affronts to our sense of personal autonomy and illusory demands for immortality and self-sufficiency?
It is in the way of dispossession and abandonment that we come to know, at the level of heart and soul, that no one and nothing belongs to us, so that all, including our very lives, are gift to us. In the mode of possession, we live lives of demand which lead only to depreciation and resentment. When we live with the willingness to leave everything for the sake of Jesus, we come to know the truth that we and everyone and everything else “belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3: 23).
Since God here purges both the sensory and spiritual substance of the soul, and its interior and exterior faculties, it is appropriately brought into emptiness, poverty and abandonment in these parts, and left to dryness and darkness. For the sensory part is purified by aridity, the faculties by the void of their apprehensions, and the spirit by thick darkness.
God does all this by means of dark contemplation. And the soul not only suffers the void and suspension of these natural supports and apprehensions, which is a terrible anguish (like hanging in midair, unable to breathe), but it is also purged by this contemplation. As fire consumes the tarnish and rust of metal, this contemplation annihilates, empties, and consumes all the affections and imperfect habits the soul contracted throughout its life. Since these imperfections are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul, in addition to this poverty, this natural and spiritual emptiness, it usually suffers an oppressive undoing and an inner torment. . . . in order to burn away the rust of the affections the soul must, as it were, be annihilated and undone in the measure that these passions and imperfections are connatural to it.
John of the Cross, The Dark Night, II, 6, 4-5