Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This encounter between our Lord and this “certain ruler” is captured by all three of the Synoptic Evangelists: Matthew (Mt. 19:16-26), Mark (10:17-23), and Luke. He has been invariably known as “the rich young man” or “the rich young ruler.” Presumably he belongs to the higher echelons of society, perhaps a ruler of the synagogue. He definitely, however, has wealth.
In each Gospel, he presents himself to Jesus as a serious inquirer. Now, there are some Fathers who think that he comes to test Jesus, but Jesus nor the Evangelist seem to indicate that, at least explicitly, not as explicitly as St. Luke does when, in the introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is said “a certain lawyer stood up and tested [Jesus],” posing nearly the same question as this anonymous well-to-do ruler (Lk. 10:25). In fact, in St. Mark’s account Jesus is said to have “loved” the young ruler as He beheld this soul kneeling before Him.
In each Gospel, this inquirer greets our Lord with what appears to us as nothing out of the ordinary. He says, ‘’Good Master’” or “’Good Teacher.’” But, our Lord responds to this greeting in a less than ordinary way. He wants to know from this soul, “’Why callest thou Me good?’” Jesus isn’t offended by it, but He detects something in the heart and soul of this man before Him. He pauses to cause this man to reflect upon why he called Him good. What led him to this conclusion? Why does he believe Jesus is “’good’”? Why does he think Jesus is worthy of this honor? So often, we simply use words. We fling them about willy-nilly neglecting that words have meaning, that words have substance, that words can be nuanced and are important and should be chosen wisely. Is Jesus the Son of God of “the same substance or essence of God” or is He of “similar substance or essence”? This was the hotly debated question of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea. All that separated these two concepts in the Greek language was an iota – an “i”. Of course, we know what won the day. We have it preserved for us in the Nicene Creed confessed at every Divine Liturgy, and at other times: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages: . . ., begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; . . . .”
But, why does this seeker after Eternal Life call Jesus “’good’” and why does our Lord respond the way He does? Jesus reminds the young man that “’None is good save One, that is, God,’” a kind of odd response from our perspective. Few, if any of us, would protest if referred to as “my good fellow” or referred to as “a good soul.” Few, if any of us, would stop someone in his or her tracks to remind them that there is only One Who is truly good, and that is God. It would certainly make for a good conversation starter about God, and it would no doubt reinforce in us humility: only God is good. Only God is the very definition and icon of goodness. Only God is the Source, the Sustainer, and the Telos [end or goal] of all goodness. It is from this “good God Who loves mankind” we receive our goodness by His grace, having been created in His image to attain His likeness. To be good is to be like God, to be God-like or godly. It is this good God Whom we implore in St. Basil’s Anaphora of his Divine Liturgy, “Preserve the good in Thy goodness, and make the evil to be good by Thy goodness.”
Did the wealthy seeker believe Jesus to be, in fact, God? God-in-the-flesh? Or, was he trying to butter Jesus up, schmooze Him a little? This is what Jesus is driving at, so say some of the Fathers. “’Why do you call Me good?’” Is it because you recognize in Me – insofar as you are able to – My divinity? Is this why you have approached Me with your quest that is at the heart of every living soul? Or, is it for another reason?
How we come to Jesus makes a difference. How we approach this Jesus matters. Do we come to Him with all our questions, all our confusion, all our angst, all our hopes and dreams as our good God or do we come to Him as a mere Man? A good Teacher? A wise guru or philosopher? This certain ruler and possessor of many possessions comes to Jesus because he sees in Him something no other rabbi or self-proclaimed prophet has. Remember, this Jesus taught with authority unlike the others (Mt. 7:28-29; Mk. 1:22). He spoke like no other man has ever spoken (Jn. 7:45-46)! If anyone can assuage the torments of this man’s soul; if anyone can give him a true word, it is this Jesus. So, the hungering man puts his question to the good Master and Teacher, “’[W]hat shall I do to inherit Eternal Life?’”
Now, notice, beloved, that our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ does not say to him, “No, no. You don’t have to do anything! All you have to do is believe, have faith in Me. There isn’t anything you can do to have Eternal Life.” But, what does the good Master and Teacher say? He points the man to the Commandments of our good God Who loves mankind. The Commandments are good and holy and just, says St. Paul (Rm. 7:12). They lead us to God Who alone is good. In fact, He alone is THE GOOD! They reveal the will of God so that we can “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm. 12:2).
In a way, what Jesus is doing is pointing the man – and us – to God. “You know God because you know His Commandments.” Even moreso, we know Him Who is the Word of God made flesh, “full of grace and Truth,” Whose Life is the Light of God’s glory (Jn. 1:1-18). If we desire to inherit Eternal Life we need to listen to this Jesus and follow Him, which is exactly what our Lord says. He and the Father are one (Jn. 10:30; 17:11,21-23). To know Him is to know God (Jn. 14:7, 9). To follow Him is to follow God. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus the Son of God and we are walking in the very way of the good God Himself!
Our Lord is directing the question and the seeking soul to God. Jesus pushes the man to lift up his eyes beyond the limited horizons of this world to which he is still heavily attached, and to look to God with Whom all things are possible; to seek God Who alone can satisfy the discontented and still the stormy, raging souls.
But, was the man ready for his prayer to be answered? For that matter, are we? The man prays and wants to know how to inherit Eternal Life. So, he comes to Jesus in prayer. We can well imagine souls stretching forth their hands in prayer, imploring, “Good Lord, what must I do to attain Life Eternal?” Are we prepared to receive from God His divine answer to our prayers? Perhaps we must be prepared for the long haul, just like the tenacious widow in the parable that heads up this chapter. St. Luke says that our Lord told the parable “that men ought always to pray and not lose heart.” We are assured by Him that if a corrupt earthly judge can finally be persuaded, how much more our good and loving God Who bears long with us (Lk. 18:1-8)?
Just what exactly was this certain ruler expecting when he came to Jesus? For that matter, what do we expect when we come to Jesus? What did he want to hear from the lips of God in the flesh? What do we want to hear when we approach God in prayer? When we cry out, “Lord, save me!,” is it salvation we are really asking for? Are we ready to be saved, as God determines, to do that which is truly salvific? Or, are we looking for God to do it our way, to meet our expectations? This story can teach us much about how we come to God and why we come to Him. It also shows us how we are to approach God, that is, with the utter and absolute humility as a child. For “’whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child,” our Lord says just before this man comes to Him, “’will by no means enter it’” (Lk. 18:15-17).
What Jesus told this seeking soul caused him a great upheaval. The man had striven to live by the Commandments of God all his life. “’Yet lackest thou one thing,’” our good God tells him, “’sell all that thou hast and distribute to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.’ And when [the man] heard this he was very sorrowful. For he was very rich.”
Here was a soul who was truly called to deny self, take up the Cross, and follow Jesus (Mt. 16:21-28; Mk. 8:31-9:1; Lk. 9:23-27). Here was a soul whose seeming enthusiasm and eager inquiry into eternal things would be enough to enthuse any pastor and delight the heart of any priest if he came knocking on the doors of the church! But, we find through our Lord’s skillful guidance and divine insight that the presenting question on the man’s heart really wasn’t his primary concern after all. Jesus exposed what was really important to him, and it wasn’t the Kingdom of God. His honest quest wasn’t for Eternal Life, but rather how to hang onto his possessions without sacrificing them. In other words, to state it colloquially, “he wanted his cake and eat it, too.” He wanted what God has but he didn’t want God. He was generally preoccupied with everything but God, so that there was little or no room for God.
When we come to God we must be prepared to receive Him. If we are yearning for and seeking the goodness of God, we must be ready, then, to heed His call and to receive His word of Truth to us that will alone set us free (Jn. 8:32). Things that preoccupy us, that get in the way of our saving and sanctifying relationship with God, simply have to go: our possessions as well as our passions. Yes, we cling to our passions as surely as we cling to our possessions. And we abound in them! In fact, sometimes, we find more solace in our sinfulness than we do in God’s salvation! Wisdom! Attend to the repentance God calls us to and how, at times, we have greater sorrow over having to give our sin up than having the joy of inheriting Eternal Life! Who of us, addicted to the passion of anger, doesn’t prefer to respond in anger, tell someone off, than to remain silent and to be humble, to learn the virtue of humility? Hence, we are to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, . . . looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, . . . .” (Hb. 12:1-2). We must put off the old man with his passions and put on the new man, the new creation in Jesus Christ, not just once, but each and every day, so that we are being renewed in the knowledge of God “in true righteousness and holiness” (2 Cr. 5:17; Ga. 6:14-15; Ep. 4:17-24; Co. 3:1-17).
There is a parable our Lord tells of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field who, having found it hides it, and then goes off and sells all that he has in order to buy the field with the treasure in it. And, again, Jesus speaks of a merchant in search of the finest, most beautiful pearls. And, when he finds that one pearl of inestimable value, he sells everything in order to possess it, to make it his own. If our good God and His Kingdom truly is the pearl of greatest price or the treasure hidden away in a field, then what is it worth to you? Is it worthy of the absolute sacrifice called for in order to obtain it (Mt. 13:44-46)?
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!
1 Tm. 1:15-17