The gospel for Sept 10, the Feast of St. Aidan, begins, Then Peter said… which begs the question: what happened just before, that set up this morning’s gospel. Here is an abbreviated version of the preceding episode.
Someone came to Jesus and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ .. he said, … keep the commandments.’ … The young man said, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, …then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. … it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle … When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’ (Matt 19:16-22)
This was also a little while after Jesus, (in last week’s gospel), had given his disciples the shocking instruction: ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
Following Jesus had begun with a series of popular cures, miracles and teachings that lit up all who met him, but now Jesus seemed to be showing the shadow-side of discipleship.
Here is the complete gospel for the Feast of St. Aidan, (Matt 19:27-30).
Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’
Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Peter’s question made sense. Selling everything and giving it to the poor, and taking up the cross seems to strip one of both their possessions and their dignity and committing them to suffering seemed at odds with how Jesus had eliminated suffering by healing the sick, curing the infirm and driving out demons from the possessed.
Jesus agreed, but with a twist. He said that his disciples would be rewarded but the reward would come at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory. It would be a share in the Son of Man’s glory.
That glory would involve a place of honour sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Recall that Matthew was writing to a Jewish-Christian community that had been barred from synagogues because they followed Jesus. The tables would be turned. The followers of Jesus would judge those who had judged them.)
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.
Sometimes following Jesus would involve hard choices. Not everyone in a family might share the same devotion to Jesus and may even cut off members who did. The larger Jewish community, in fact, excluded Jesus’ followers from the synagogues in Matthew’s day.
But a great reversal…. many who are first will be last, and the last will be first…would establish justice and reward Jesus’ followers a hundredfold for what they had given up.
This gospel of Matthew is used uniquely on the Feast of St. Aidan, (though it feels familiar because Mark’s version, Mark 10:17-31 is assigned for the season after Pentecost in Year B of the lectionary.) The following is an abbreviated version of Aidan’ life.
Aidan, who died on August 31, 651, became a living embodiment of this gospel: leaving houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake. Born in Ireland he became a monk at the monastery on the island of Iona, part of what is now South-West Scotland.
In the late 500s and early 600s, Christianity in Britain was largely displaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism. One refugee from the Anglo-Saxons, Oswald of Northumbria, had been raised in Iona, since 616, as a king in exile. A Christian, the young king vowed to bring Christianity back to his people when he gained the crown of Northumbria in 634.
King Oswald requested that missionaries be sent from the Iona monastery. The first missionary, named Cormán, alienated many people by his harshness and returned to Iona saying that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticized Cormán's methods and was sent as his replacement. He did not speak Anglo-Saxon and relied on Oswald to translate for him until he learned enough to converse.
He founded a monastic community on the island of Lindisfarne close to Oswald’s royal castle at Bamburgh. The community became a centre for scholarship and spirituality.
Aidan travelled throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and the socially disenfranchised (including children and slaves). Aidan would walk from one village to another, conversing with the people he saw and interesting them in Christianity. He travelled on foot, rarely on horseback, even giving away a horse that Oswald had given him to a poor farmer. By patiently talking to the people on their own level and by taking an active interest in their lives and communities, Aidan and his monks slowly restored Christianity to the Northumbrian countryside.
Aidan was known for his strict asceticism, his charity and dedication to the less fortunate. He provided room, board and education to orphans, and used contributions to pay for slaves’ freedom. He invited rich and poor to embrace the faith or, if they were believers, to strengthen their faith. Any monies he received he distributed to the poor or used to ransom slaves.
Aidan personified Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, our first reading (1 Cor 9:16-23)
…I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them ... To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
Peace...and Happy St. Aidan's Day.