The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26)
Every time that we come here to the Church we have an opportunity to encounter God. We encounter God in multiple ways, but the most important of those ways is through the words of the holy gospel that are read every Sunday and also through the Word who is mystically made flesh for us in the bread and the wine. We are the most blessed of all the people in the world. We are among the most blessed who have ever lived upon the earth. When you come here to the Church of the living God, put aside all of the earthly cares and focus and internalize the tremendous blessing that God has bestowed on you by allowing you to know Him and to hear Him and to partake of Him.
If you come into the Liturgy and spend your time thinking about what is for lunch or what is on your agenda today or what you need to buy from the store, you are not thinking on the things of the kingdom. Most of us will spend many weeks, months and years here praying together. Let’s not waste that time to satisfy some requirement and check off some weekly list of things we need to get done. Attending the Divine Liturgy is not something that you check off your list. It is something that when done correctly, ensures that you are not checked off God’s list. It’s a serious business. We come here to encounter God who is a consuming fire. I say this to you as a cautionary word, because it is easy to get comfortable in the day to day. Complacency has no place in the Christian’s vocabulary.
Comfort and complacency play a large role in what we see happening in today’s gospel. A man came up to the Lord Jesus and said to Him “Good teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Let’s pause here and look at the reply of the Lord which is very interesting He says “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” That verse, when taken on face value, is often misunderstood and used by opponents of the Christian faith to try to prove that the Lord Jesus is not in fact the Son of God, who is equal to the Father and the Spirit. They see it as a correction of the man’s statement that Jesus is good. But that is not the case. What the Lord is correcting here is not the man’s statement. As St. John Chrysostom says “The Lord never says “Why do you call me good, I’m not good.” He instead says God alone is good. It is meant to direct the man to a more profound understanding of the real identity of Jesus. The Lord wants to make sure that the man understands that He is no mere teacher or rabbi. He leads him in the right direction without fully revealing Himself before the time.
Now one of the things that we should never do as Christians is get complacent. Another thing that we should never do is to test God. The rich man tests God by asking a serious, weighty question without a full realization of the gravity of the question and who it is that will answer. The man wants to justify himself as a perfect man who keeps the commandments and will go to heaven. When we test God, we find that we are the ones who are thoroughly tested. Our Lord Jesus Christ turns this man’s world upside down by giving him one more command “If you would be perfect, go and sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”
We hear this statement and we might feel bad for the man. How could the Lord ask so much of this man who just wants to go to heaven? It seems like Jesus is picking on him. But that is not the case at all. Jesus is the world’s greatest heart surgeon. He asked much of Him because He loved Him much, and much was required to save him. He went straight to the tumor and pointed it out and told the man what was necessary to be saved. It is painful to have our faults pointed out but part of being a Christian is having your faults pointed out by God. What is not recognized as sickness, cannot be healed properly. Our Lord pointed out that what was keeping this man from knowing God had nothing to do with physically keeping the commandments. Yes it was good that he “kept” them, but he missed the essence of the matter. The commandments cannot save you, it is God alone who can save you. What’s worse, was that the man showed that he loved the riches more than he loved God. He was more serious about the riches than about heaven. He was more in love with his comfortable life than he was with following Life Himself, and all of this means that the man was breaking the first and greatest commandment. He did not in fact love God with his whole heart, mind, soul and strength. So we should indeed feel bad for the man but we should feel bad because he is attached to his material possessions and because he is delusional regarding his standing with God. He missed out on the opportunity and invitation to be a follower and disciple of Christ. He missed out on a relationship with the Son of God that would have led him to his stated goal…eternal life.
There is good news in this story. God loves us much. If we approach God and want to grow closer to Him, we know that He is going to help us and attempt to perfect us just as He tried with this rich man. When you approach God in prayer and you ask God to make you a better person, or make you more patient or more loving or more holy, you have to understand with faith that God wants these things for you more than you want them for yourselves! He alone knows our potential. So when you ask God to help you, expect that God will answer by giving you what is necessary for your growth as a person and not what is comfortable or convenient; When you ask God to help you, He will honor your request and allow you to experience challenges, tribulations, and great difficulties and on top of it all, He will ask you to make tremendous personal sacrifices. This is the way that God gives us the blessing of following His Son and putting on Christ daily, and Christ alone is our eternal life. Glory be to God forever AMEN.