His name is Intong. Originally, he was from Laos and he, and his entire family, were Buddhist. He was a professor who was conscripted into the Vietnam army. Even though this was not his choice, he was determined to be a traitor and if he had returned to his homeland he would have been arrested. I don’t know if Intong was among the Hmong people or not. That would have been enough for him to never return to Laos as the new government is suspected of having killed four hundred thousand of the Hmong people because they supported the royal government over the Lao People’s Democratic Republic which seized control during the Vietnam War. Intong made his way to the United States of America and became a citizen. While in Texas he converted to Christianity. He was disowned by his family and probably most of his friends. I knew him when we were both in Sioux City, Iowa. And disowned is probably too soft. He has been struck by his brother. When he moved back to Texas to take care of his father, it was most likely his family who disabled his fire alarm and then set his mobile home on fire. He was in a coma for sometime with horrible burns on most of his body. He survived with horrible scars. Nothing in this story would make it sound as if being a Christian were a good thing. Ah, but this is not the whole story.
Luke 18:28-30 seems like a natural discussion after the discussion with the rich ruler and the following teaching moment. Jesus told the rich ruler to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor. The rich ruler walked away distraught because he was exceedingly wealthy and not willing to let go of that wealth. Jesus followed that up with a lesson on the impossibility of the rich to enter into the kingdom of God. Peter burst out with, “Behold, we have left our own and followed you.” The New American Standard version throws in “own homes” here. The word can imply home, but more often than not, own things or possessions, is what is implied if there is not qualifying noun. Peter is saying that they left behind or abandoned their own everything to follow Jesus. Business, family, houses, everything. Luke does not have Peter saying “What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27), but this is most likely implied. Peter is claiming that they have exhibited the very attitude of giving their all that Jesus has said is central to being his disciples. The rich ruler walked away, but they were still there. The question of inheriting eternal life may be in the forefront of what Peter is saying.
Jesus begins with an “amen I say to you” or “in truth I say to you.” When Jesus begins a statement with these words, he is saying, “Pay attention. This is important stuff.” And what does Jesus want to make sure his disciples understand? “No one who has left behind house or wife or brother or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” At the heart of the whole conversation is “what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?” Does it really mean abandoning everything? Are we intended to be without home; without a spouse; without parents; without brothers and sisters; without children? Well, that doesn’t seem likely in the light of instructions about family life throughout the Bible. Jesus lifted up the command that we are to honor father and mother. What is this about? It is exactly about what happened in the history of the church. If your wife puts pressure on you to act in any other way than as a disciple, you abandon that pressure. If your parents threaten to disown you if you act like a follower, then you follow Jesus and be disowned. If owning a house is more important to you than living out a disciple life, leave the house behind. Following Jesus is first and foremost who you are. All other ties must be secondary. And this is hard stuff.
But if you do put Jesus above your possessions and your relationships, you will have a family bigger than you can ever imagine. The whole of the kingdom of God becomes your family. Thankfully, I have not had to experience this abandoning of family. But my brother Intong did. He put Jesus before everything. My Aunt Sharon did. She was disowned by her family because of her convictions; because of her decision to follow Jesus. When push comes to shove, if anything gets in the way of following Jesus, you walk right on by whatever it is, and you follow Jesus. That is what Jesus is calling us to. As one of my brothers, one of my shepherds, is often saying, the rewards are out of this world. But they begin here. The kingdom of God brothers and sisters; mothers and fathers; are eternal family; family that will walk with you on this journey now and forever. And that is good news family. Follow Jesus and be family. Peace.