The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (19:16-26)
In each gospel reading we come face to face with the mind and the heart of God. That is not a light thing. When we pay attention to the gospel text we should rightly be shaken to the core. By shaking us to the core, God can ensure that our foundations are strong and ready to be built upon in the right way.
The rich young man that came to the Lord Jesus, came with the right question in his mind. But he had no place for the right answer in his heart. Everyone in this room should have this man’s question as one of the guiding questions of their life “What must I do to have eternal life?” Every day is a new chance to ask this question and to work towards that goal. Why is this such an important goal? What is the big deal?
The big deal is that our earthly life is short and everything in our life, everything that we have worked so hard for or invested so much in, will fall right through our grasp. It will be counted as nothing unless it is an investment towards the kingdom and towards our life in that kingdom and with the King of life! St. Augustine writes,
“For this life is loved, whatever its quality; and however troubled it is, however wretched, people are afraid to end it. Hence we should see, we should consider, how much eternal life is to be loved, when this miserable life that must at some time be ended is so loved. Consider, brothers, how much that life is to be loved when it is a life you never end. You love this life, where you work so much, run, are busy, pant. In this busy life the obligations can scarcely be counted: sowing, plowing, working new land, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving. And after all this hard work your life comes to an end. Look at what you suffer in this wretched life that you so love. And do you think that you will always live and never die? Temples, rocks, marbles, all reinforced by iron and lead, still fall. And a person thinks that he will never die? Learn therefore, brothers, to seek eternal life, when you will not endure these things but will reign with God forever.”
The question posed to the Lord was a good one. The response to the Lord’s answer was not what the man expected. But why should it be what we expect in the first place? When you come to God and ask for answers, you should be prepared for God’s answer to shake you to the core because God is in the business of turning people’s lives upside down in order to turn their hearts and minds right side up.
How does the Lord do this for the young man? He asks him if he has kept the ten commandments. The man replies that he has. Next the Lord tells the man the one thing that the man did not expect, the one thing that would certainly shake him to the core. The Lord Jesus says “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.”
At this point many of you are probably saying to yourselves “thank God I’m not rich, I guess my path into eternal life will be easy.” But I want you to know that while the focus has been material wealth, the words of the Lord Jesus most certainly apply more broadly than that. We can be rich in many ways and many of those forms of wealth can keep us from loving God fully. They can be things that consume our hearts and minds and time and energy. Some people are wealthy with money, others are wealthy in their gifts or talents, some are wealthy in their physical beauty or their intellectual abilities. All of these forms of wealth can keep us from inheriting eternal life because we use them to build up our pride and arrogance and not to build our love and service towards God.
Preaching about this passage, St. John Chrysostom says, “Christ demonstrates that there is a significant reward for the wealthy who can practice self-denial.” Our holy Orthodox faith teaches us to practice self-denial. This is why we learn to fast not only for great fasts but every Wednesday and Friday. We learn to give alms to the poor and to delay our desires for instant gratification. We learn to pray and keep vigil instead of merely spending our time trying to be entertained. All of these are forms of self-denial that can be directed to focusing on and following Jesus Christ.
Can we imagine that this rich man went away sad? People around us are spending their lives and their strength trying to accumulate wealth and this man who was already wealthy, went away sad. But there is something else, he did not simply go away sad, he also went away poor. Why was he poor? Because he had been offered the chance to follow Jesus and His disciples and he walked away from that chance. He walked away from the living treasure out of his love for things that can be stolen and lost and ultimately are left behind one day.
My hope and prayer is that each one of us doesn’t walk away from Christ, sad and poor. The Lord tells us that it is truly difficult for a rich man to be saved. But with God’s helpit is possible to leave behind the perceived riches of our lives and direct ourselves to the Master. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” St. John Chrysostom says “If you also want to learn the way and how the impossible becomes possible, listen. He did not make this statement that what is impossible for man is possible for God merely so you could relax and do nothing and leave it all to God. No, he said this so you could understand the importance of calling upon God to give you help in this rigorous contest and that you might more readily approach his grace.”
Sowe have to take steps in the right direction and we do this through ourspiritualpractice and ourway of life and even in the way that we approach and prepare to receive the body and blood of Christ here at the Divine Liturgy.
Let us work and humbly ask God to work within each of us so that we might enter into the true life of communion that never ends.