In this section of the Gospel, Jesus is taking the time to set things right about what it means to be rich and famous. If yesterday had not been the memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, we would have had the Gospel reading about the rich young man. As you might remember about that passage, Jesus looked at the young man and loved him, and then challenged him to give up his possessions and follow him. But the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions. To this, Peter replies in today’s Gospel, “We have given up everything and followed you.” I don’t know if this is boasting, or frustration, or some mix of the two. But Jesus responds to his assertion by telling him that now, in the present age, those who give up everything will receive so much more.
I don’t think Jesus was trying to put forth a prosperity gospel here, though. I really don’t think he was saying they’d be rich and famous in the present age. What he was saying is that they would be rich in what matters to God, rich in the Holy Spirit, rich in love and mercy. And it’s that last line that brings it all into focus: “many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” By being the least, giving up everything, they will be first in the Kingdom of God, which was and is here among God’s people.
So for all of us, rich young men, or overzealous disciples, or just plain folks who want to inherit eternal life, Jesus looks at us and loves us, and calls us to give up everything that’s in the way, so that we can be the last who will be first. What is it that we have to let go of today so that we can be first in the Kingdom of God?