The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 19:16-26
At first glance we see a man with good intentions. He recognizes the Lord Jesus as wise and discerning and he decides to ask him a question. “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” That’s a great question! At some point in the life of every man woman or child, this question will be asked.
When the Lord Jesus responds to him it is important to note that He doesn’t say “Well believe on my name and you will be saved instantly.” He tells him that the way to salvation is through obedience to the commandments. “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” The man asked Him “Which commandments?” So the Lord Jesus answered him “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The man answered Him saying ““All these I have observed; what do I still lack?” There’s an important lesson here. If you come to a surgeon and ask him what is wrong, you better be prepared for an answer that involves surgery. This man was pushing the Lord and testing him but the truth is that it didn’t come from a pure heart. He asked the surgeon of our souls, and the surgeon responded with an answer “I have to cut out the tumor in your heart.” Now we know that the Lord didn’t really say that but that is in effect the message that the man heard when the Lord responded ““If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
You see what this man was asking all along was not if he could be saved or how he could be saved. He was asking something else. 1) He was asking if there was an easy way to be saved. And 2) he was trying to see whether he was already “good enough” to get to heaven.
The way that the man responded to Jesus shows us that he wasn’t interested in eternal life. 1) He was interested in the easy way to eternal life. The lesson from the Lord is that receiving eternal life is not easy. Getting to heaven actually involves sacrifice. It involves living outside my comfort zone. It involves struggle and toil. Do those things get us to heaven? Nope. Those things help us to follow Jesus Christ and He gets us to God the Father. Sometimes we are sad as Christians because we haven’t made much progress, but progress in any discipline requires hard work. Look at the Olympic athletes. None of them can just wake up and say “I’d like to go to the Olympics in a month and win a gold medal.” It won’t happen. It involves proper training for many hours every day. It involves proper nutrition. It involves proper thinking and strategy. It involves proper coaching too. If this kind of work is necessary to win a medal that will rust and fall apart over time, how much more difficult is the struggle to received the prize which is eternal and from God? We know that this man was looking for an easy way to heaven, but there’s more to it.
2) He was also trying to justify himself before the Lord. He was trying to prove that he was already “good enough” to go to heaven. The problem is that you can never justify yourself to God because He is the one who alone declares us righteous and justifies us. Sometimes I will meet people who say “well I don’t go to church but I’m a good person.” Really?! According to whose standards are you considered good? When people speak this way it’s a sign that they have absolutely no idea what sin is or how far they have fallen from the life that God wants us to have. You can’t be saved by your own lofty opinions of yourself….you can’t be saved apart from the grace and mercy of God. That is why our whole liturgy is spent repeating these words “LORD HAVE MERCY!” No matter what we do we cry out “Lord have mercy”.
An encounter with Jesus is always hard because it reminds us that God expects so much from us, and that we still have so far to go. But there is good news. God knows our hearts. God sees our struggle. God loves us and has mercy on us. The Lord is not out to hunt us or imprison us. He does want us to check our hearts. We need to examine them closely and see whether we are looking for an easy way to heaven. The Lord tells us that narrow is the way and there are few who find it. Are we on the narrow path or the wide path, the path that looks easy or the path that is covered with obstacles? Each person has to answer these questions.
Here are a few examples. Those on the wide path go out of their way to avoid helping others. Those on the narrow path go out of their way to help others. Those on the wide path come to church when it is convenient. Those on the narrow path find it convenient to be in church every week. Those on the wide path spend their hard earned money on large homes, large cars, large toys and when there is a bit left they give it to the poor and to the church. Those on the narrow path realize that God has given them wealth to bless the needy and the church in their area. Those on the wide path criticize and nit pick at everything that everyone else is doing wrong. Those on the narrow path blame only themselves before God. The man in this gospel chose the easy, wide path by leaving Jesus behind. May almighty God give us the courage to choose the narrow and difficult way!
Glory be to God forever, AMEN.
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