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Season of Dedication Second Sunday

Season of the Dedication of the Church

MATTHEW 19:23-30
APOSTLES SITTING ON TWELVE THRONES

INTRODUCTION

The inherence of the Kingdom of God was a concern of the Jews, including the apostles. Jesus asked a rich young man who wished to gain eternal life to donate his wealth to the poor and follow Jesus. Since he was unwilling to give up his possessions, he left disappointed. Observing this, Jesus told his disciples the difficulty of the rich to inherit heaven. That astonished the disciples because, like the public, they also believed that the heaven was for the rich. However, Jesus soothed them by saying the impossible is possible for God. On behalf of the apostles, Peter asked what they would benefit from abandoning their family, possessions, and sources of income for the sake of Jesus. He promised them a prominent position in the kingdom of God. He added that all who forsake their family and wealth for him would gain hundredfold, along with eternal life. Thus, those who make themselves humble servants of God in the world would be great in heaven. Is our goal to become rich in this world or in heaven?

BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 19:23-30)

(Mt 19:23) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you: it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (25) On hearing this the disciples were astonished and said, “Who, then, can be saved?” (26) Jesus looked at them and answered, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

(27) Then Peter spoke up and said, “You see, we have given up everything to follow you. What will be our lot?” (28) Jesus answered, “Listen to my words: at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his throne in glory, you who have followed me will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (30) Many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first

INTERPRETATION

Background

A rich young man once approached Jesus with a question, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” (Mt 19:16). Unlike the Sadducees, he believed in life after death and wanted to gain the eternal life of glory. He wanted Jesus to clarify him on what he must do for it. Jesus’ reply was, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). Since the rich man asked what he was lacking, Jesus said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Since the young man was rich and unwilling to give up his possessions for the poor, he went away sad (Mt 19:22). In this context, Jesus said to the disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:23).

(Mt 19:23) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you: it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Then Jesus said to his disciples

The disciples witnessed the negative reaction of the rich youth who left depressed when Jesus told him to distribute his possessions to the poor and follow him. That gave Jesus the opportunity to speak to the disciples on the hurdle of worldly attachments that would prevent one from entering the kingdom of heaven.

Truly I say to you

The solemn “truly” emphasizes the truth in the statement that follows in Jesus’ teaching. Whenever Jesus had a serious matter to communicate, he made use of such usages. Hence, it shows the importance of his teaching on making use of wealth and opportunities for acquiring treasure in heaven.

It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Like the rich youth, the disciples also believed that keeping the commandments of God according to the popular understanding of the time was enough to attain eternal life. However, Jesus demanded detachment from possessions to become perfect in heaven. Thus, he presented worldly riches as obstacles for entry to heaven. The reasons behind it are:

(1) The wealthy shall seek security in the personal possessions than in God’s providence. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17). Proverbs speak of the folly of trusting in the riches. “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but like green leaves the just will flourish” (Prov 11:28). Though Judas Iscariot had left everything for Jesus, the greed for money and seeking false security in it made him fail in his noble vocation as an apostle.

(2) The rich people may forget God, who blesses them with riches. Moses had warned the Israelites while preparing for their entry into the promised land: “Be careful not to forget the LORD, your God, by failing to keep his commandments and ordinances and statutes which I enjoin on you today: lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built fine houses and lived in them, and your herds and flocks have increased, your silver and gold has increased, and all your property has increased, you then become haughty of heart and forget the LORD, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that house of slavery” (Deut 8:11-14).

(3) Those who are desperate to become rich might use unjust means and exploit others. Paul wrote, “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim 6:9-10). When Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus as a guest, he realized his exploitation of others to accumulate wealth and pledged, “if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (Lk 19:8).

(4) A rich person shall become uncharitable with less concern for others. The failure of the Rich Man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was his lack of concern for Lazarus and other less fortunate in the community. The success of Zacchaeus was his willingness to share half of his property with the poor (Lk 19:8). To this Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19:9). John asks, “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). Jesus had compassion for the poor, mingled with them, and helped them in their misery. He even identified with the poor in the verdict of his last judgment. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35-36).

Jesus said, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15). The advice of Jesus to the rich is. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19-21). The wealthy, according to Jesus, must make use of the prosperity to build up the kingdom of God because gaining eternal heaven is meritorious than the temporal riches of the world. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Mt 13:44-46).

When Jesus said it will be hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, he did not mean the impossibility, but the pain of giving up the worldly riches. The greed and selfishness would thwart such people from doing so. The unwillingness to share resources with others would be a snare in our spiritual life. Hence, Jesus asks: “What profit would there be for one to gain the entire world and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16:26).

A Christian has to be spiritually fruitful. However, worldly ambitions and selfishness can hinder that productivity. While explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said to the disciples, “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit” (Mt 13:22).

(24) “Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Yes, believe me

This phrase again underscores the importance of Jesus’ teaching on the difficulty of a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle

Conversion of a rich person to give up resources for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is humanly difficult, though it is possible by God’s grace. Jesus illustrated this improbability by using a proverb among the Jews. They expressed anything impossible, unusual, or difficult by using this hyperbolic expression. Hence, we need not take this in a literal sense. However, the example emphasizes the natural difficulty of the rich person’s willingness to become altruistic and heaven oriented.

Some commentators make the hyperbolic expression more sensible by referring “the eye of the needle” to a small gate next to the main entrance of the city gate. The camel and other gigantic animals could not pass through that narrow gate. Only pedestrians used it and was popularly known as “the eye of the needle.” Babylonians used elephants for the same proverb. Since elephant was not available in Palestine, the Palestinians replaced it with camel, the biggest animal there.

According to Jesus, one’s obsession with money is in contrast to the loyalty to God. He said, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth or property.

than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The man rich in possessions is poor in spiritual resources and vice versa. Though rich people offered large amount in the Temple treasury, Jesus complimented a poor widow who offered only two small coins (Mk 12:41-44). When Zacchaeus volunteered to donate half of his possessions to the poor and repay four times for extorting anything from anyone, Jesus said salvation came that day to his house (Lk 19:1-10).

The obstacles for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven are the evils attached to the wealth. They might include injustice, avarice, exploitation, selfishness, pride, luxury, self-centeredness, lack of compassion for the less fortunate, avoidance of God, and self-reliance. The rich can overcome these only with self-determination and the grace of God.

(25) On hearing this the disciples were astonished and said, “Who, then, can be saved?”

“Who, then, can be saved?”

Though all did not believe in the life after death, the disciples in line with the Pharisees believed in it. That was the motivation for their religious practices. The belief of the time was the poor were sinners and not worthy of heaven. If the rich also would not inherit the kingdom, then who would be there?

On hearing this the disciples were astonished and said,

Jesus spoke contrary to the widespread belief of salvation. The Jews, including the disciples, believed that the heaven was for the wealthy because God was pleased to provide them excess riches than necessary for their livelihood. According to proverbs 10:22, “It is the LORD’s blessing that brings wealth, and no effort can substitute for it.” People believed that the heaven was for such blessed individuals and not for the less fortunate who were suffering because of their sins or of their ancestors. In such a case, the disciples wondered who would enter the kingdom of heaven.

Another reason for the astonishment of the disciples was the importance Jesus gave to the virtue of poverty than wealth. The normal passion of the people is to increase their wealth and enjoy the life. If such people would not enter heaven, then most people will lose the eternal joy.

(26) Jesus looked at them and answered, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Jesus looked at them and answered

The disciples did not at first catch up with the teachings of Jesus. He stared at them in the sense of why they doubt the salvation of humanity. He came to save the world and not to condemn it. Jesus clarified their distrustful question.

“For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Jesus reminded the disciples how God can make anything possible that is tough for the humans. When the LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre as three men, one of them told Abraham, “I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son” (Gen 18:10). Sarah laughed because “Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years, and Sarah had stopped having her menstrual periods” (Gen 18:11). The LORD responded, “Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do?” (Gen 18:14). The Israelites believed that when the LORD was with them, they could defeat a mighty enemy with their fewer soldiers (1 Sam 14:6). Through Jeremiah, God asked, “I am the LORD, the God of all the living! Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer 32:27).

Jesus did humanly impossible acts during his public ministry, like changing water into wine, miraculous healing, casting out demons, calming the sea, and raising the dead. That made people to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The disciples were eyewitnesses of these.

God converted the rich to care for the poor. Such are the cases of tax collectors like Zacchaeus and Matthew. Saul, who persecuted the church, became Apostle Paul. Missionaries throughout the centuries left worldly comfort in their lives to work for the kingdom of God, expecting hardships, martyrdom, and reward in heaven.

(27) Then Peter spoke up and said, “You see, we have given up everything to follow you. What will be our lot?”

Peter spoke up and said,

Peter had inborn leadership qualities. So, he was bold to ask questions to Jesus on behalf of the other apostles. By using “we” in his question, it is clear Peter was talking on behalf of others as well. They might have suggested that he ask this question.

“You see, we have given up everything to follow you.”

The apostles left their family, profession, and possessions to follow Jesus unconditionally. All of them, except John, were married and had family responsibilities. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were fishing at the shore of Galilee. “At once they left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:20). James and John “were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him” (Mt 4:21-22). Jesus called Matthew, who was sitting at the customs post, collecting taxes for the Romans. When Jesus asked to follow him, “he got up and followed him” (Mt 9:9) leaving everything behind. Similar was the case with the other apostles as well.

“What will be our lot?”

Family and friends of the apostles might have raised questions on their merit for such a sacrifice to follow Jesus. It is natural for all to expect an incentive for their activities. In the Book of Job, Satan asked God, “Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing?” (Job 1:9). When God claimed Job was unlike all people on earth “blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil” (Jon 1:8), Satan argued it was only because God blessed him with big family, divine protection, blessing for his works, and huge livestock (Job 1:10). Satan continued, “But now put forth your hand and touch all that he has, and surely he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:11). So, people are naturally benefit-oriented in their activities. Whether rich or poor, all are aiming at gaining prosperity.

The apostles did not know where Jesus was heading. They could not see Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom. While gaining admirers, he had opposition and life threat from the Jewish elites. He predicted his own passion and death by the religious authorities as part of his mission. So, the apostles were confused, especially when they heard it was impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

The apostles thought of their destiny. What compensation or reward they would get for giving up everything and accompanying Jesus? When was he going to establish his kingdom? Would they be losers in following him? What would be their role in the new kingdom? Those were the natural questions the apostles had in mind.

Peter and others expected a preferential treatment from God for giving up everything and following Jesus. Unlike the rich young man who left Jesus with disappointment because of his unwillingness to share his riches with the poor, the apostles had implemented what Jesus preached by relying not on wealth but on Jesus. Though they were not as wealthy as the rich young man, they had given up all they had, including their family, houses, job, and utensils they used for work. They dedicated their time and talents fully to Jesus. So, they expected a better position in his kingdom.

(28) Jesus answered, “Listen to my words: at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his throne in glory, you who have followed me will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus answered, “Listen to my words:

This emphasizes the certainty of Jesus’ teaching that follows.

at the renewal of all things,

Through Isaiah, God had promised “the new heavens and the new earth” for the devoted people of Israel (Isa 66:22). After the Pentecost, when Peter addressed the people at Solomon’s Portico in the Temple, he spoke of the upcoming “times of universal restoration of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” (Acts 3:21). In his letter, Peter wrote of the renewed world thus: “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:12-13).

According to Paul, our spiritual renewal or “new age” is a rebirth through baptism in the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5) that makes us heirs of eternal life (Tit 3:7). Jesus mentions a renewal at his second coming with the establishment of his kingdom. John documented his vision in Patmos: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away’” (Rev 21:1-4). Thus, there is a rebirth at the time of baptism in water and the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn 3:5) and another one with the resurrection of the dead and the last judgement.

when the Son of Man sits on his throne in glory,

The Son of Man refers to Jesus, the God incarnate. Though he first came to serve and save humanity, upon his second coming, he will sit to judge and govern the saved ones. “His throne in glory” signifies his powerful and glorious appearance (Mt 24:30) as heavenly judge and king.

Daniel, in his prophetic vision, saw the glorious coming of the Son of Man with the clouds of heaven followed by his governing in glory. “He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:17).

you who have followed me

By saying this, Jesus acknowledged and appreciated the sacrifice and dedication of his beloved apostles.

will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel.

According to Luke, after teaching on servant leadership that Jesus expects from his apostles, he promised them, “It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:28-30). According to Jesus, the Father “has given all judgment to his Son” (Jn 5:22). Judgement and governance have an identical meaning in the Bible. After Israel’s entry in the promised land and before Saul became king, the rulers were known as judges (Judg 12:8-11; 15:20; 16:31).  

The judges and kings used to have assessors who sit along with them in their court or administrative office. Jesus promised a similar position to the apostles after his second coming. It will be a spiritual status of honor and power over humans in the new kingdom as a reward for their sacrifice for Jesus and his church. Hence, the apostles will be partakers of the last judgement, followed by the governance of the righteous people.

Jesus referred to the vision of Daniel where he specified the role of the holy associates of the Son of Man. “Then the kingship and dominion and majesty of all the kingdoms under the heavens shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High, Whose kingship shall be an everlasting kingship, whom all dominions shall serve and obey” (Dan 7:27). Hence, Jesus assured the apostles a sublime role after their sacrificial life for his kingdom on earth. Later, in John’s vision at Patmos, he saw surrounding the throne “twenty-four other thrones on which twenty-four elders sat, dressed in white garments and with gold crowns on their heads” (Rev 4:4). They represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the apostles (Rev 21:12-14). The wall of the New Jerusalem “had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). Thus, they got the assurance that they will share the honor and glory of Jesus in his royal throne.

will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to rule the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus established the church with his blood of the new covenant (Mt 26:28; Lk 22:20), reconstituting the covenant God made with Israel (Ex 24:8). Jesus intentionally selected the twelve apostles symbolic of the continuation of Israel. Hence, James in his epistle addresses the Christians as “the twelve tribes in the dispersion” (Jm 1:1) meaning the new Israel of Christ.

(29) And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my name’s sake

Besides the apostles, Jesus promised reward and eternal life in heaven for all his disciples and future missionaries who would give up the companionship of their family and the security of their property for him. Whether rich or poor, all can inherit eternal life by giving up their family and the little resources they have, like the apostles did for the church.

The divine providence will provide for the representatives of Jesus when they give up necessities of ordinary life. During the sermon on the mount Jesus told his disciples, “Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:31-33). During the public ministry of Jesus, the women disciples supported him and the apostles out of their resources (Lk 8:1-3). Jesus sent the disciples to villages for pastoral experience. On their return, “He said to them, ‘When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?’ ‘No, nothing,’ they replied” (Lk 22:35).

will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

The reward Jesus promised for his full-time servers is hundredfold, along with eternal joy in heaven. The hundredfold is neither in kind nor in a literal sense, such as one hundred houses, manifold family, or excessive material property. It expresses the multiplication of spiritual joy to compensate for the voluntary poverty and suffering for the sake of Jesus. The Bible documented such joy of the early Christians:

1. When the Sanhedrin flogged the apostles and dismissed them ordering to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, “they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41).

2. While Paul and Silas were in prison, they were praying and singing hymns to God in the presence of other prisoners when a severe earthquake happened (Acts 16:25).

3. The book of Hebrews reminds the Jewish Christian readers the suffering they had endured after their enlightenment in Christ. Then the author continues: “You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession” (Heb 10:34).

(30) Many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first.

The elite Jews such as the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, and Priests believed they were prominent in front of God. They dishonored the poor, the disabled, the sinners, and the gentiles. The upper class did not care to uplift the lower class. Their negligence displeased God.

Jesus helped the upliftment of the lower strata of the society through his actions and teachings. While the self-righteous people opposed Jesus, he selected the apostles and other disciples from the ordinary people. He promised the apostles who left what they had for his mission that they would be partakers in the last judgement and governance in Jesus’ kingdom. Whereas the Scribes and Pharisees will be cast out of the kingdom (Lk 13:28-30). So, Jesus predicted a reversal of the future in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus clarified it through parables:

1. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, after their death the angels carried the poor and sick Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man ended up suffering in the netherworld (Lk 16:19-31).

2. When the Prodigal Son returned with repentance, the father welcomed him in the family with honor while his brother refused to enter the house (Lk 15:11-32).

3. In the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, who went to pray in the Temple, the sinful publican went home justified and not the righteous Pharisee (Lk 18:9-14).

Jesus advised his disciples, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12). James asks in his letter, “Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” (Jm 2:5). 

All the above show that God’s righteousness differs from the human standards. People aspire to luxury and accomplishments in this world. Jesus wants his followers to offer their time, talents, and achievements for the sake of building up the church and to support those who are in need. Then God will reward them in heaven. So, Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20).

MESSAGE

1. Those who are obsessed with acquiring wealth will not have treasure in heaven. We have to make use of the abundance and opportunities of this world to gain the eternal life and joy in heaven. What is our approach?

2. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). Is our focus in the wealth or in heavenly savings?

3. A famous teaching of Jesus is, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Are we serving God, or money that is associated with evils?

4. The earthly and heavenly values are incongruent. When Jesus insisted on spiritual values, the elite Jews could not agree with him, and they even opposed him. Are we attracted by the mundane standards that block our entrance to heaven?

5. The disciples who sought prominent positions in the world while following Jesus changed their mentality, especially after they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Let us examine what we need to change in our lives?

6. Salvation of the poor and sinner is easier than that of the rich and righteous. Let us make ourselves humble and poor for eternal joy in the kingdom of God.

7. Jesus promised eternal life and a high reward for those who dedicate themselves to the kingdom of God. With that hope, let us serve the Lord and the people whom he entrusted to our care.

8. Those who dedicate themselves to the kingdom of God will have an inner joy that the world cannot give. Are we seeking temporal happiness the world offers, or for the joy that God provides in this life and in heaven?