Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have heard this story about “a certain ruler.” In fact, I’d wager we know it fairly well. His story is preserved for us in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Mt. 19:16-26; Mk. 10:17-23), and we are told that he was “very rich” or that he had “great possessions,” leaving us to imagine just what that might mean or might look like. Just how rich was he? Or, how many possessions? If anything, at minimum, he was well-off, comfortable enough in his life with ample finances to support his lifestyle to the level he had become accustomed. And, he wanted to “’inherit Eternal Life’” – a very good thing indeed – the one thing perhaps he wasn’t sure he possessed.
There is much, I believe, to commend this “rich young ruler” to us. Perhaps he was conniving, as some of the Fathers suggest, exploring ways to ensnare our Lord or to bolster his own ego. Perhaps. But if we give him the benefit of the doubt, he is no doubt like many of us here today: persons of faith – believers in God – who still may have questions of God, maybe even of our salvation itself! Lord, what must I do to inherit Eternal Life? Lord, what more must I do? Lord, have I done enough? Lord, why do you seem to be so distant? Lord . . . Lord . . . Lord . . . .
To be sure, one of the real dangers we all face, however, is to dismiss him and his story as not being applicable to our own circumstances because we’re not wealthy, at least, we’re not counted among the likes of a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet or a Donald Trump. None of us here would probably ever identify ourselves on a poll as being rich, as rubbing shoulders with the wealthy and the famous, or as hobnobbing with the likes of an Oprah Winfrey or a Steve Jobs or any number of notable celebs. I’m fairly certain that as soon as we hear the words that “he was very rich” we immediately tune out and dissociate ourselves because we’re obviously nowhere near to him, and thereby sort of push Jesus’ words and story off.
But, I want to assure us this morning, this Gospel story – like every Gospel story – is, in fact, about us, about all of us gathered here and those absent for just cause. True, we may not be rich by whatever socio-economic standards determine that, but we’re certainly not poor. Oh, we may wish we had more (who of us doesn’t wish that at times?), but we’re not going to bed wondering where the next meal will come from or where we’ll be resting our heads tonight. My guess is that our homes are pretty comfortable and more than adequate for our needs. So, this story of the rich young ruler is on that level – the plain, historical, and literal level of the monetary and our accumulated possessions we all have (unless, of course, there is someone among us who is a monastic that I am not aware of who practices lean and mean asceticism). It is for good reason that we have been counseled by the Baptist and Forerunner, following Sacred Scripture, that if we have two coats, give one away to someone who doesn’t have one; likewise the same with food (Lk. 3:11). St. John Chrysostom thought it robbery if we had something our neighbor needed and failed to supply their need. Consequently, the Scriptural wisdom of almsgiving.
And even if we would still protest that we are not in this man’s camp, his story is still about us. Why? Because of our wealth of possessions. We all own a ton of false idols. We all are possessed by a wealth of passions and sins. We all are beholden to a trove of treasures that, when challenged by Jesus, to be given up for Him and for the sake of His Gospel – if not for the very salvation of our souls – we balk, just like the man possessed by his comforts in today’s Holy Gospel. Anything we are not willing to surrender to our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ at His divine bidding is a riches that we value more than Him and our eternal salvation.
This, brethren, is the spiritual level of the Gospel story. This ruler’s story is, indeed, our story to one degree or another. We all have to make spiritual choices. We all have to sit down and take account and decide whether or not we can follow Jesus, do as He asks of us in His Gospel that has the power to save us (Lk. 14:25-33; Rm. 1:16). Can we deny ourselves (which is what the ruler is fundamentally faced with today), take up the Cross, and follow our Lord wherever He leads us knowing, trusting, believing that He is the Wisdom of God and the Power of God for our lives and in our lives?
If we don’t know Him; if we don’t trust Him; if we don’t believe Him, then we, too, may leave this place as sad as the inquirer in today’s Holy Gospel! Because there are things and persons and ideas and passions and sins and prejudices and images we value more that truly possess our souls, our hearts, and our minds, that control us and determine our destiny. St. Francis de Sales says it quite well. He says, “Those who are rich with the world’s pleasures are incapable of spiritual delights” (Introduction to the Devout Life, p. 263, #5). Jesus calls us out of the world so that He can give us His Kingdom of love and of Life and Light (Co. 1:13). Indeed, we stand assured by our Lord’s own promise, “’Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’” (Lk. 12:32). But, then, what does Jesus say? He says immediately on the heels of this assurance,
‘Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the Heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Lk. 12:33-34).
That’s exactly what the ruler in today’s Gospel was faced with. Exactly this! Jesus calls us to lay down at His feet the wealth of our possessions – all that possesses us and are obstacles to inheriting Eternal Life: our pride and despondency, our need to be liked or indulged with praise and adulation, our anger and bitterness, our jealousy and envy, our prejudices and partiality, our need for a safe and secure future guaranteed with things like our material possessions and income, our ideas and notions that conflict with the Gospel, our preference for the darkness in which we feel safe (or so the devil leads us to think) instead of the light, our falsehoods and deceptions, our sexual perversions and the evil images of pornography that murder our souls, our greed and covetousness, our coarse and filthy talk that we think makes us look cool and acceptable to the world around us but, in truth, drives wedges deeper between us and God and the Kingdom we wish to attain (Co. 3:5-11).
In all of these things, beloved, and more, we are filthy rich! And, we seem to be comfortable! These things get in the way of Eternal Life. Jesus says, “Sell them, get rid of them, purge yourselves of them, surrender them, sacrifice them, divest yourselves of them and receive the Kingdom of My Father, receive the grace of the Holy Spirit and His transfiguring power.” Receive, “as the elect of God, holy and beloved, . . . tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.” Make these your own. Excel in them. But, above all else, “put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Co. 3:12-16). In fact, “pursue love” as surely as you do fame and fortune or any of the other myriad possessions that fill your lives (1 Cr. 13:1-14:1).
All of this, beloved, is nothing less than emptying ourselves, just like our Lord (2 Cr. 8:9; Ga. 2:20; Pp. 2:5-11), so that He may fill us full of Himself – His divine nature and likeness, which is to say, Eternal Life. He calls us to be more and more detached from possessing this world and all its empty promises, and to be more and more – always more – attached to His Father Whose Kingdom only the violent, Jesus says, can possess (Mt. 11:12; Lk. 16:16). “’The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk. 1:15)!
“’You still lack one thing,’” He says. Don’t we all? “’Sell all that you have, . . ., and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Of course, if we’re anything like Peter who was listening closely to the wisdom of his Master, we, too, like Peter might wonder who in the world can ever be saved, then? Because the salvation Jesus is talking about isn’t just giving my heart to the Lord, telling God I’m sorry, and I’ll be happy forevermore because I’m now saved. Salvation is a whole life lived out in repentance. Salvation, on this side of eternity, is but the beginning! And this, beloved, is only possible with God!
Of course, we might also be asking ourselves if the sacrifice our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ calls forth from us is worth it. What do we stand to lose and what do we stand to gain? Peter certainly asked those questions. “’Lo, we have left all and followed Thee,’” he says to Jesus, implying, “What do we gain?” And Jesus said unto all of His Disciples for whom Peter was speaking,
‘Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house or parents or brethren or wife or children for the Kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come Life Everlasting’ (Lk. 18:28-30).
The very thing the rich ruler was looking for – Eternal Life! Life Everlasting!
To receive we must be willing to give – and to give all to Jesus. This applies to rich and poor alike. None are exempt because they are poor and the rich are not spared if they should give but a mere token of all that they possess. “’Sell all that you have’” is said to all of us. When we come to Jesus Christ, it’s all or nothing. We can’t hold back in reserve a small portion for ourselves and pretend we’ve given our all. Beware of Ananias and Sapphira who tried that very thing! They thought they could trick God. But, God can see all things and knows the totality of our very being – body, soul, and spirit. To Him we must give an account and be judged accordingly (Ac. 5:1-11; Rm. 14:7-12; Hb. 4:12-13; 1 Pe. 4:5). The call of our Lord may be unique to each of us, as it was to this ruler, but the surrender is the same. Like Abraham, our father of old, we do not hold back from God even our firstborn (Gn. 22:1-19). All is given to God Who, in His Providential grace and mercy, gives back according to His will. But, it remains ours to surrender as an act of our free will.
This, brethren, is Christian perfection. This is what Jesus says in St. Matthew’s account of this story. “’If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have . . . .’” (Mt. 19:16-30). This is the total giving over of self to God. It is what it means to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (Mt. 5:48). It is to love God so thoroughly and so completely for His sake alone that nothing else really matters or possesses us to enslave us, so that all within our power to give is offered up to God as whole burnt offerings.
“’Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’” (Lk. 12:32). With men, these things are not possible. “’But with God all things are possible’” (Mt. 19:26; Mk. 10:27).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!