Mansions

March 27, 2010

Mansions

Around a large campfire late one autumn evening, Jesus comforted his disciples by speaking to them of a heavenly realm that far surpasses the beauty of anything on earth. He spoke of a place that never grows dark or cold, a vast city that is filled with beautiful mansion, with streets of gold, and with unending expanses of green and fertile land– a place of perpetual peace and fulfillment.

Jesus spoke of this kingdom late into the night, painting pictures of heaven until the fire began to turn to ash and a chill filled the air. One by one, each of his disciples drifted off to sleep with the images of heavenly treasure and luxurious mansions feeding their dreams.

In the end only Jesus and a poor, unknown, and uneducated disciple were left, each one lost in though, watching as the last cinders of the fire began to die.

After some time had passed, this solitary disciple looked over to Jesus and spoke.

“I was wondering about something,” he said.

“Yes, my friend?” Jesus replied.

“Well, there are so many people who follow you now that I can’t help worrying that someone like me, an old, uneducated sinner, may get overlooked amidst all the great thinkers, politicians, preachers, and radicals who are being attracted to you and your message.”

Then he turned his face away and continued, “I’ve never been in a mansion; in fact, I have never even seen one. So, I don’t care too much if I miss out on all that. But tell me, will there be room enough for me when I die– will there be somewhere for me to stay in this kingdom of which you speak?”

Jesus looked at the man with compassion. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, in a tone that could barely be heard over the distant contented noises of the sleeping crowd. “Tucked away in a tiny corner of heaven, away from all the grand mansion and streets of gold, there is a cramped little stable. It doesn’t look like much inside or out, but on a clear night you can see the stars shine bright amidst the cracks, and you can feel the warm breeze caress your skin. In this kingdom, that is where I live, and you would be welcome to live there with me.”

———————————————–

I get a little bit emotional reading this parable; it is just about exactly how I imagine Jesus relating to people. “Yes, my friend?” On to the meat of the story, though.

Riches tempt us. Eternal riches even more so. Can we take a quick step back, though, and consider; in a world in which all one’s needs are met, what use is there for treasure and riches? Seems to me that the whole “Treasures in Heaven” and mansion talk might just be a metaphor for something else.

Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry identifying with the poor. The Septuagint is fair obsessed with the fortunes of the needy. (This should not be news to people; God cares about poor folks.) It does make a certain amount of sense to assert that their eternal reward for their faithfulness would be a bit of turnabout, but I think that interpretation rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the stories. Wealth is never portrayed as a noble end in and of itself, and it makes no sense to me to suggest that suddenly it would become so in a reconciled earth. Instead we can think of this wealth as representing not corporeal riches, but the putting right of things.

If the picture of a world reconciled to God is not, then, one overflowing with treasure, but instead one that has been put profoundly right– a world experiencing shalom– then it makes complete sense that Jesus would say to his friend, in effect, “The Kingdom of God is a humble thing, and it always will be. The discovery of that, at the end of all things, will be the discovery of an untold treasure. And if you want, you can live with me.”

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